Swift River School in New Salem to explore well camera probe

  • Swift River School in New Salem. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2022 5:13:56 PM
Modified: 5/6/2022 5:14:05 PM

NEW SALEM — The New Salem health agent plans to contact the engineering firm Tighe & Bond to ask about inspecting the structural integrity of the well on Swift River School’s property as a step toward resolving an ongoing issue with its water.

At the portion of the Wendell Selectboard meeting designated for Swift River stakeholders on Wednesday, Timothy Newton said he would inquire about inserting a camera down the well to determine if it is adequate or if a new one is necessary. The state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has ordered Swift River School, which serves students from Wendell and New Salem, to rid its water of PFAS6, a set of six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a family of chemicals used in common consumer products like food packaging and outdoor clothing. Tests of the school’s tap water in the fall of 2020 revealed elevated PFAS6 levels, though no state drinking water regulations had been violated.

At Wednesday’s virtual meeting, Wendell Selectboard member Dan Keller said the contamination is coming from the parking lot, and there is a crack in the well casing where it meets the bedrock. But Kelley Sullivan, principal of Swift River School, said that has not been proven. This prompted Financial Coordinator Douglas Tanner to say the community has “multiple reasons to believe that.”

“The well is old and it was never really that great anyway,” Tanner added. He also mentioned drilling a new well is a possibility.

Newton mentioned there could be some American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money for remediation or a new well casing if one is needed.

Edmund Coletta, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, previously said Swift River School has a public water system and signed up for a free round of testing under a program that provides voluntary PFAS testing of such systems. The initial PFAS6 sampling was 53.8 parts per trillion (ppt) when the school’s drinking water was tested in November 2020. Follow-up sampling completed in January 2021 showed 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.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Carl Seppala, recently elected to the New Salem Selectboard, raised the question as to whether the contamination could be caused by any of the building materials used to construct Swift River School in the 1970s.

Jenny Potee, chair of the New Salem Board of Health, endorsed the idea of camerawork in the well “because it makes the most sense.”

Newton reminded everyone at the meeting that this is not a residential well.

“There’s more involved than just coming out and drilling a hole,” he said.

Keller stressed that any work on the well needs approval from MassDEP. He also said the school needs an engineer to write a plan for the well camerawork.

Keller also asked if the well could be fixed. Jared Whitney, filling in for a vacationing colleague at the water and wastewater construction firm WhiteWater Inc., answered in the affirmative.

Tanner mentioned at least $4 million has been invested in the school, and though he wouldn’t say that money is no object, he thinks it is “just plain stupid to settle for something that’s less than the best.”

Seppala told everyone to not rule out the possibility of using the fields across the street from the school as a location for a new well. Newton added that that would require going through the New Salem Conservation Commission due to adjacent wetlands.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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