Update from the Selectboard on the PFAS situation

Thank you to everyone who was able to attend the info session last week with MassDEP and our Licensed Site Professional (LSP), Jeffrey Arps from Tighe & Bond (T&B).  For those of you who weren’t able to attend, we will attempt to summarize the discussion. Both presentations can be found on the Board of Health PFAS page.

The Town Hall campus public water supply well was tested in September 2019 and PFAS, a group of compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, were detected at a level that exceeded guidelines in place at the time.  Whitewater, the company that runs our public water supply, notified MassDEP immediately.  In response to the notification, MassDEP issued a Notice of Responsibility to the Town in November 2019, directing the Town to test wells within a 500-foot radius of the Town well for the presence of PFAS.  Since T&B was already working with the Town to monitor groundwater at the Town Hall campus for petroleum hydrocarbons related to historical underground storage tank releases, the Town engaged them to work with us on the PFAS detection.

Per MassDEP protocol, T&B created a 500-foot circle around the affected Town well (Radius #1) and the Town notified all 14 homeowners within that circle that their wells would need to be tested.  All 14 private wells that were tested had some level of PFAS detection.  Again, per MassDEP protocol, all affected residences were provided immediately with bottled water and signed up for regular deliveries from Poland Spring.

Every time there is a well which has been tested and found to have a PFAS detection, T&B is required by DEP’s protocol to create a new 500-foot circle around that well and extend their testing.  An area defined as Radius #2 was created. 

In addition, T&B is working with residents with PFAS levels over 20 parts per trillion (ppt) to have a point-of-entry-treatment (POET) system installed to remove the PFAS before it reaches homeowners’ faucets.  Given the number of systems that need to be installed, POETs are being installed first in the homes with highest levels of PFAS.  Homes with levels less than 20 ppt will need to remain on bottled water.  As of February 6, there are fifteen (15) private wells with detections over 20 ppt, twelve (12) private wells with detections under 20 ppt, seven (7) with no detections, and three (3) with results pending at the laboratory.  T&B is in the process of notifying and testing thirty-one (31) additional residences (Radius #3) (sample collection began this week).

Five homes have POET systems installed and the data collected to date show that the systems are effectively removing PFAS from the water (no detections after treatment).  T&B will be sampling and creating new circles until there are no further detections of PFAS.  All wells that have been tested during this process will be retested 3 months later and then on a yet-to-be-determined schedule.

What is the Town doing about this?  At this point, we are supporting affected homeowners by paying for the testing, bottled water, and POETs.  We have engaged a lawyer with significant Chapter 21E (Massachusetts hazardous material cleanup) experience to help guide us through this effort.  We will be exploring all avenues of funding with the state and federal governments so that the Town doesn’t bear this burden alone.  In the meantime, we will be holding a Special Town Meeting on Wednesday, February 26, at 7 pm at the Thomas Prince School to appropriate funds to address this issue.  Additionally, the Advisory Committee will hold a Public Hearing on Wednesday, February 19th at 7PM in the Town Hall Annex to hear public comment prior to the Special Town Meeting.  We encourage you to attend these meetings and participate in the discussions as we continue to address this situation.

T&B is also working with the Town and MassDEP to try to determine the source of the PFAS contamination.  There has been no definite determination of cause yet, but historical handling of PFAS-containing foam at the Fire Station at the Town Hall Campus and the use of foam during the firefighting at the Princeton Inn in May 2017 are being evaluated as possible primary sources.

The Selectboard is working with the Town Administrator on a communication plan. Our plan will encompass communications to the affected homeowners as well as communications to the rest of the Town.  

If you have any questions at all, you can reach Town Administrator Sherry Patch at 978-464-2102 or at townadministrator@town.princeton.ma.us.  We anticipate and appreciate your patience and support as we all deal with this challenging issue.  This will continue to require significant time and resources from Town leaders as we make this a priority during an already busy time of the year.