Company: PFAS filtration system at Swift River School proves successful

Swift River School in New Salem.

Swift River School in New Salem. STAFF FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz


Staff Writer

Published: 11-07-2023 5:00 PM

NEW SALEM — The vice president of the engineering firm that was contracted to install a water filtration system at Swift River School to rid it of synthetic substances known as “forever chemicals” said the new equipment has proven to remove compounds below the detection limit.

Pete Valinski, of Tighe & Bond, wrote in an email to Wendell Town Coordinator Glenn Johnson-Mussad that laboratory results from an eight-hour test on Oct. 28 revealed the equipment performed as anticipated. The company plans to operate the water filtration system on a timer for a week or so while it awaits approval to place the system online.

The system was installed in August and Tighe & Bond enlisted the assistance of WhiteWater Inc., which operates, manages and maintains water and wastewater systems. Testing was slated for late September, but was ultimately rescheduled for Oct. 4 due to a clogged distributor tube.

Johnson-Mussad said the information he has been provided with indicates the total spent on the water filtration system to date is $212,400.80, with another $32,554.20 in contracted amounts yet to be paid. That will make the total project cost $244,955, he explained.

Attempts by the Greenfield Recorder to reach Valinski on Monday for more information were unsuccessful.

Wendell and New Salem own and operate Swift River School, which uses a type of public water system known as a non-transient non-community water system. The towns previously signed up for a free round of testing under a program that tests for PFAS6 — a set of six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — and the school’s tap water in the fall of 2020 revealed elevated levels of the family of “forever chemicals.” When the school’s drinking water was tested in November 2020, the initial PFAS6 sample was 53.8 parts per trillion (ppt). Follow-up sampling completed in January 2021 indicated PFAS6 levels at 46.1 ppt. The state’s maximum contaminant level allowed for PFAS6 is 20 ppt. Compliance is based on the average of three monthly samples in a calendar quarter.

Amid the ongoing issues, the state Department of Environmental Protection declared a water emergency at Swift River School, which would remain in effect until there is no longer a need to use bottled water, according to a letter from Andrew Kelly of the state’s Drinking Water Program.

Principal Kelley Sullivan previously wrote in an email that Swift River School has been using bottled water for two years. MassDEP advises having one gallon per person per day for potable uses. Water in the school’s distribution system may be used solely for non-potable purposes, such as flushing toilets.

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Sullivan said 200 gallons of bottled water costs about $250 from Thurston Springs or $560 from W.B. Mason, depending on availability.

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