$223K to aid in PFAS remediation for Franklin County, North Quabbin

By CHRIS LARABEE and MAX BOWEN

Staff Writers

Published: 04-10-2023 3:28 PM

A total of $223,079 in state grant funding is headed to four Franklin County and North Quabbin towns to help filter potentially harmful chemicals from their water systems.

The Healey-Driscoll administration and the state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced a series of awards this week to design and install or upgrade per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) treatment systems in water supplies.

New Salem received $100,000 to address long-running elevated levels of PFAS in Swift River School’s water. Meanwhile, Petersham was granted $35,000 to construct a PFAS treatment system at Town Hall and Phillipston received $50,000 to upgrade the water treatment system at the Phillipston Memorial Building. Additionally, Hopping Ahead LLC (The Brewery at Four Star Farms) in Northfield received $38,079 to install a PFAS treatment system.

Wendell Selectboard Chair Laurie DiDonato said the grant will lessen the financial weight for both her town and New Salem, which share the school and are tackling the PFAS contamination together. While the PFAS levels in the school’s water are elevated, no state drinking water regulations have been violated.

“It’s very needed. … We just did a whole reevaluation of the town and a lot of people are seeing their taxes go up this year,” DiDonato said. “Costs are going up everywhere and we don’t want to add this one as well.”

PFAS are a family of chemicals widely used since the 1950s to manufacture common consumer products and used in some legacy firefighting foams. Drinking water may become contaminated if PFAS deposited onto the soil seeps into groundwater or surface water. PFAS have been linked to a variety of health risks, particularly in women who are pregnant or nursing, and in infants. In October of 2020, MassDEP finalized a protective standard of 20 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for PFAS in drinking water, as well as cleanup standards for soil and groundwater, according to a press release from the agency.

In September, a rough estimate from engineering firm Tighe & Bond estimated the project’s cost at $75,000, with a 20% contingency. DiDonato said she didn’t have an updated estimate, but between the $100,000 grant and a $45,000 New Salem earmark, she expects the project will be covered.

The project is expected to be completed in time for next school year. DiDonato said students have been using bottled water in the meantime.

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“The plan is to have it completed over the summer,” DiDonato said, “so when school is in again, the kids will have water.”

Melanie Jackson, administrative assistant to the Phillipston Selectboard, said the Phillipston Memorial Building is used for meetings of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other groups, though it’s not regularly occupied. The town is still waiting for estimates from two engineering firms, but has been told the solution is to add a filtration system that will need to be regularly upgraded. The town has done short-term solutions such as handing out bottled water and sending regular updates on the PFAS levels. In the most recent report, PFAS levels were 54 parts-per-trillion (ppt) over the last few months. Jackson added that all of Phillipston is on private wells and water systems, so it’s unknown the full extent of the PFAS contamination.

“Unless somebody wants to test their personal well, they’re not required to,” she said. “If it is and the PFAS level comes back and it’s positive, they have to get it done.”

Jackson said the town has tested the Police, Fire and Highway departments as well as the Memorial Building.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, who has been working toward getting funding to address PFAS, said in a statement that this money is welcome for local towns.

“I am heartened to see schools, businesses and municipal buildings in our district receive PFAS remediation grants. Constituents gather at these places, drink the water, and I will breathe easier knowing these funds are in place to address concerning levels of PFAS,” Comerford commented. “My sincere thanks to MassDEP for confronting the PFAS challenge head on. Count me in as a partner now and in the days ahead.”

Additionally, state Rep. Aaron Saunders, D-Belchertown, said the funds are absolutely necessary for his small, rural communities to have clean drinking water.

“The grant funds supporting New Salem and Petersham are indispensable to addressing the challenges PFAS poses to our drinking water systems,” Saunders said in a statement. He thanked Gov. Maura Healey, MassDEP Commissioner Bonnie Heiple, and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper for their “continued recognition of the challenges our small and rural communities face.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081. Reach Max Bowen at mbowen@recorder.com.

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