Swift River School water system needs $41K upgrade due to chemicals

  • Swift River School at 201 Wendell Road in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/30/2021 4:53:31 PM

NEW SALEM — The Wendell Selectboard learned Wednesday it could cost about $41,000 to install a water system upgrade at Swift River School to remove a family of chemicals used in common consumer products like food packaging and outdoor clothing.

Bruce Turner, finance and operations director for Erving School Union 28, of which Swift River School is a member, explained the equipment was quoted at $36,376, with engineering costing another roughly $5,000. School Principal Kelly Sullivan mentioned the cost of ongoing maintenance won’t be known for about two years.

According to Turner, the state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered Swift River School to rid its water of PFAS6, a set of six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Jennifer Culkeen, superintendent of Erving School Union 28, said she has been informed that failure to remedy this problem could make the school subject to legal ramifications and there could be a citation for each day the school is out of compliance.

Located at 201 Wendell Road in New Salem, Swift River School serves elementary students from that town and Wendell. It was generally agreed at Wednesday’s meeting that the towns could split the upgrade costs with American Rescue Plan Act money.

Edmund Coletta, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, earlier this year 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.

“We just keep testing positive,” Sullivan said, adding that the school is out of compliance with the state limit, but not the federal one. “So we have to mitigate this problem somehow.”

Turner explained the contaminants in the water are the result of groundwater seeping into the well on school property. He said PFAS6 is a component found in carpets, soaps, detergents and anything containing a fire retardant.

Facilities Engineer Jim Slavas further explained the groundwater is contaminated and drilling a new well, as has been suggested, would not solve the problem. He said much of the contamination is likely coming from vehicles in the school’s parking lot.

“You don’t want to drill below the existing well,” he said.

Sullivan said the school’s food is being cooked using bottled water and the state provided two water fountains that filter PFAS6. However, the state insists this is not a remedy.

The principal also said many parents and guardians send their students to school with bottled water. But New Salem Selectboard member Wayne Hatchey said that, too, can be dangerous due to chemical components in the bottles’ plastic.

Sullivan said there is only $1,500 available in state grant money to fund the water system upgrade. And, in response to previous comments made by Wendell Selectboard Chair Dan Keller, Sullivan noted the issue of sodium seeping into the well was alleviated by ending the practice of applying salt to the parking lot.

While on the topic, the principal also mentioned two of Swift River School’s non-drinking sinks tested positive for lead and their hardware is being replaced.

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


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