Wendell, New Salem support PFAS filtration system at Swift River School

  • Swift River School in New Salem will get a filtration system to filter a certain family of chemicals from the water. Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2022 4:04:50 PM
Modified: 9/11/2022 4:04:19 PM

NEW SALEM — The New Salem and Wendell selectboards voted this week to support the installation of a system to filter a certain family of chemicals from the water at Swift River School.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) last year 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 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. Both towns have since brainstormed how to remedy the problem. The contaminants — also found in carpets, soaps, detergents and anything containing a fire retardant — are the result of groundwater seeping into the well under the school.

At the Wendell Selectboard meeting on Wednesday, Chair Laurie DiDonato said her town’s portion of the money can come out of its stabilization fund and residents can vote on its appropriation at a Special Town Meeting in October. The board voted unanimously to support the system installation and to coordinate with New Salem at some point in the future on a new well at Swift River School. The New Salem Selectboard voted on a similar motion the previous night. DiDonato told the Greenfield Recorder the rough estimate from engineering firm Tighe & Bond is $75,000, with a 20% contingency.

New Salem Selectboard member Carl Seppala attended Wendell’s remote meeting on Wednesday and said he agrees with Wendell officials’ concerns about the well existing underneath the school.

“I would like to see the well relocated from under the building,” he said.

Seppala said the PFAS6 issue is New Salem’s highest priority and the town will use American Rescue Plan Act money, if necessary.

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

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

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