The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a new set of stricter drinking water standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, which could require treatment options for at least one water district on Martha’s Vineyard.
The first nationwide regulations would set a threshold for the so-called forever chemicals at 4 parts per trillion, a much higher bar than how Massachusetts currently regulates PFAS. The standards would require action from public water suppliers if the drinking-water standard is not met. Some wells on the Vineyard have recently surpassed the proposed threshold.
A public water well maintained by the Oak Bluffs water district measured in October last year — the latest test available to the public — had a reading of 9.09 parts per trillion of PFAS, about 5 parts per trillion over the EPA’s proposed threshold.
The well is on Lagoon Pond off Barnes Road, and water officials say that testing at the well has fluctuated over past reporting periods, sometimes not detecting PFAS at all.
Oak Bluffs water district Assistant Superintendent Greg Dankert says they are aware of the levels, and are keeping track of how and when the EPA rules might be rolled out. He says it’s unclear now if the new EPA rules would force the district to shut the well down over one reading, or if the regulations would consider an average from tests taken over a year. Either way, Dankert says the water in Oak Bluffs is safe to drink.
But the EPA’s new national standard is raising alarms for some Oak Bluffs town officials.
Ewell Hopkins, chair of the town’s planning board, says the proposed regulations are a wake-up call for elected town officials and town staff to work together to address PFAS contamination.
“We have to make some tough decisions right now about what we are going to allow and what we will discourage in terms of land use,” Hopkins said. “We don’t have the large industry to point the blame. We can’t sue our way out of this. We are going to have to start funding the remediation and taking other steps.”
Hopkins says the discussion could be about using less water and potentially shutting the Lagoon well down, or adding treatment options.
Treatment of a municipal well would be an infrastructure project that could cost millions of dollars, as was the case in many Cape Cod towns in recent years.
Chatham voters last year approved about $6 million for the treatment of two wells; Mashpee and Falmouth have both had municipal wells shut down due to contamination from a former fire training academy on Joint Base Cape Cod; the wells were not reopened until filter systems were installed and paid for by the federal government.
“There are no easy decisions ahead of us,” Hopkins said. “The only question is how brave are our elected officials to make these tough decisions.”
According to reporting from the state Environmental and Energy Affairs department, Edgartown and Tisbury water districts have not detected PFAS in their public water systems. The state requires regular testing.
But wells in other towns on the Island have. According to the state environmental department data, a reading in Aquinnah — listed by the state as Aquinnah Restaurant — had a reading of 4.1 parts per trillion and 4.00 at a well in 2021, along with several other readings that were non-detect for PFAS; Chilmark had a reading of 4.3 parts per trillion at a well in 2021, and then 3.43 in 2022; and West Tisbury had a reading of 2.8 parts per trillion at a well. Health officials in those towns did not immediately respond for comment.
The EPA announced the new proposal on Tuesday, with officials saying the decision was made to pursue a stricter standard to protect public health.
The agency says it’s “a major step” in addressing PFAS pollution, “leveraging the latest science and complementing state efforts to limit PFAS by proposing to establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS known to occur in drinking water.”
It’s also meant to implement a uniform set of standards.
“Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution. That’s why President Biden launched a whole-of-government approach to aggressively confront these harmful chemicals, and EPA is leading the way forward,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan was quoted in a press release on Tuesday, when the new proposal was announced. “EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities. This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses, and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants.”
The EPA will open up the proposal to a round of public comment before any regulations are put into place, but the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection would be required to meet the new federal standard, or make it even more strict. The state currently has some of the strictest water standards in the country, at 20 parts per trillion.
MassDEP spokesperson Edmond Coletta issued a statement applauding the federal government for its proposal. “We will evaluate the impacts of these new draft values as EPA works toward a final rule,” the statement reads. “MassDEP is committed to continuing our nation-leading efforts to combat PFAS contamination in public drinking water, private wells, and other sources of exposure, and will continue to provide funding and technical assistance to water systems working to address PFAS contamination.”
Some local researchers who have studied PFAS contamination say the decision by the EPA is a wake-up call for the products we consume and for protecting our water sources.
Laurel Shaider, a senior scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, a Massachusetts-based institute, says that the EPA last year proposed new health guidelines for PFAS in drinking water, basically saying that any amount of the emerging contaminants was not a safe amount. Guidelines aren’t enforceable. The most recent 4.0 parts per trillion standard is not as strict as the guidelines, she said. That was done partly because laboratories have a difficult time measuring the chemicals at a smaller amount than 4.0. But she says it shows what the EPA thinks of PFAS in our drinking water.
“As we learn more and more about these chemicals, we learn more about how bad they are for our health than we originally thought,” Shaider said. “I think this is a wake-up call that many water supplies are vulnerable to pollutants.”
The EPA is requesting input on the proposal from all stakeholders, including the public, water system managers, and public health professionals. Comments may be submitted through the public docket, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114, at regulations.gov.
Now would be the right time for the MV High School to withdraw their lawsuit against the OB Planning Board for voting to disallow artificial turf as part of the high school athletic complex.
The emerging science continues to show that PFAS are dangerous. As an island we must safeguard our future while remediating damage that’s occurred.
MV High School teach student by your actions, withdraw the lawsuit. Island Boards of Health, please work together to ban PFAS.
With what we now know about the current levels of PFAS in the soils at the high school and Oak Bluffs school, where the PFAS levels were higher than the high school and which is managed by the Field Fund, the turf field will be better for our aquifer than what is currently present.
With the facts that we now know, that the levels of PFAS in the turf are listed as “de minimus” by the experts who tested the fields and was stated the PFAS won’t migrate into the aquifer. However, the current PFAS in the soils may migrate. So, remove the current soil and replaced with a safer alternative.
It is the town of Oak Bluffs who should stop this litigation, as it seems that the safer alternative is a turf field, as proven by the testing done. However, we know that the Planning Board chair is against the turf field, so, is it really about PFAS or the hatred of the thought of a turf field on the island? Why is he willing to spend hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars to fight the science? What is the town teaching our students? Ignore science when it doesn’t support your personal bias to get your way. I have yet to see the Field Fund come out and show that the materials they put on the OB school field didn’t have PFAS in them. I wonder if this will be posted. Likely not.
Why wouldn’t your comment get posted? I find it amusing that the right wingers often complain about being “cancelled” and “victims” and not being able to express their opinions, while supporting the banning of books and calling for late night tv hosts to be shut down.
Of course, My opinion is that your idea to remove all the dirt from the football field and replace it with 500,000 pounds of essentially un recyclable plastic and do that every 10 years or so is rather silly,
But, it is your opinion and it seems the editor and I agree that it should get posted.
But of course, we can disagree on who is ignoring the science and allowing our personal biases to interfere with our decision making processes.
And ,not to get too far off topic, there are plenty of reasons other than possible PFAS contamination to have natural turf at the school.
You are correct, opinions differ when you are commenters on a page like this. However, when you are an elected official, and put your known personal bias ahead of your obligation as an elected official, that is where I draw the line. The town lawyer advised the PB chair against his stance on this project, that should say something.
Your argument regarding recycling has been asked and answered at the MVC, recycling is available and required as part of the contingencies put in place for the project. There is a recycling plant currently in operation who have committed to taking the turf.
Now regarding your “not too far off topic” comment, fortunately, those other reasons you are referring to are not within the planning board’s ability to reject the project. The MVC approved the project and the planning board approved the project. The PB chair pushed for a special permit and was rejected by his board members, but then somehow a special permit was miraculously required and the planning board voted 2-2 for a special permit but it needed 2/3 approval.
This project has to be the most thoroughly vetted project in the history of the island. Heck, the Vineyard Wind dock being put in directly in the VH harbor never had any of the materials it’s using tested for PFAS, or anything for that matter, but it was approved in a heartbeat compared to the field. Thanks you Don for your continued input.
We should have playing fields that use all natural seeds, all natural fertilizer, all natural herbicides, all natural pesticides an all natural fuel for the mowing machines.
They will be really crappy fields.
Everything has a down side.
If it’s broke, fix it.
If it ain’t broke, leave it alone.
one other alternative :
Since no level of PFAS in drinking water is safe, the simplest and least expensive way to deal with the problem is for everyone to install an activated carbon filter on the cold water line in the kitchen and any other faucet that’s used for drinking or cooking. There doesn’t seem to be any need to treat all the water use.
but this is no problem–I think It’s all just a fake woke conspiracy funded by George Soros and the BLM people that hate America. The pillow guy will show us all the 110% positive irrefutable proof of this next week.
If you don’t believe me, just wait for the guy who made millions selling this stuff to show up here.
Again, a question: when the island fire departments use foam to put out a car fire, does that foam contain PFAS? The airport said their foam does not contain PFAS “unless they are dealing with a fuel fire.”
The only reason to use PFAS on a fire is a burning liquid.
Most fires at airports involve a burning liquid.
I find it interesting the only Oak Bluffs Town “Official” to comment or get asked to comment is Ewell Hopkins? A few others such as the Board of Health maybe? School Officials have tested the current fields above the aquifer and now know they contain PFAS. Anyone touch base with them for comparison? . How come nobody is asking for remediation of the “contaminated fields” ? I asked. No answer. Is current PFAS not an issue on our fields?
Ryan– at the risk of being criticized for not knowing the truth about my comment. I would theorize that most of the Vineyard has PFAS levels in the soil anywhere that humans frequent.
Where did the PFAS you talk about come from ? If they are in that field, they are likely everywhere.
Taking it to the extreme, I don’t think it’s a good idea to scrape most of the topsoil off the surface of the Vineyard and replace it with plastic.
It’s like our former president said — If you do more testing you will get more cases of contamination. Should we not test ?
And then there is lead– after the fiasco at the East chop lighthouse, do you think we should scrape off the top few feet of soil in the entire campground ?
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