High chemical levels in Swift River School tap water warrants more tests

  • High levels of chemicals known as PFAS were recently found in Swift River School’s tap water. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2021 3:58:22 PM

NEW SALEM — Swift River School has notified parents and guardians that recent tests of its tap water revealed elevated levels of a family of chemicals used in common consumer products like food packaging and outdoor clothing, but no state drinking water regulations have been violated.

The school announced it is exploring ways to remove PFAS6, a set of six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, from its water.

Edmund Coletta, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, 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 school’s drinking water was tested in November 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. MassDEP has required monthly sampling for PFAS at Swift River School, but the January results were rejected due to quality control concerns, and the school is awaiting the analytical results of February’s testing. This month’s samples were collected on March 10, but it might take up to six weeks to get the results.

MassDEP will conduct a preliminary investigation once the results are received.

According to Coletta, public water systems are obligated to meet the drinking water standards and would be financially responsible, though the state makes available certain grants and low-interest loans for portions of this work to address PFAS contamination.

A notification from the school states PFASs are man-made chemicals that have for years been used in the manufacturing of certain firefighting foams, moisture and stain resistant products, and other industrial processes. Some people who drink water containing PFAS6 in excess of the maximum contaminant level may experience certain adverse effects on the liver, blood, immune system, thyroid, and fetal development. These PFAS6 may also elevate the risk of certain cancers, according to the school.

More information on PFASs is available at bit.ly/38ZqXhD.

The school’s notification states the administration was investigating the feasibility of providing bottled water to students and staff members. It also mentions boiling the water does not destroy PFAS6 and will actually increase its level due to the evaporation of some of the water.

According to the school, people in a sensitive subgroup (infants, pregnant or nursing women, and people diagnosed by their health care provider to have a compromised immune system) are advised not to consume, drink or cook with water when the PFSA6 level is more than 20 nanograms per liter (ng/L). They should also use bottled water for drinking and cooking foods, such as pasta, that absorb water. For infant formula, parents and guardians should use bottled water or formula that does not require adding water. And bottled water should be used only if it has been tested. Visit bit.ly/3r6SNPc for a link to a list of companies that voluntarily tested their water for PFAS and shared the results.

For older children and adults not in a sensitive subgroup, the 20 ng/L value is applicable to a lifetime of consuming the water. In most situations, the water can be safely used for washing foods, brushing teeth, bathing, and showering, according to the school.

Anyone with specific health concerns regarding past exposure should visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at bit.ly/38YATrB and consult a health care professional.

For more information, contact Certified Water Operator Larry Ramsdell at 978-544-6926, ext. 209, or ramsdell@swiftriverschool.org.

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




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