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


Staff Writer
Published: 9/9/2022 6:30:27 PM
Modified: 9/9/2022 6:26:42 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 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.

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. More information on PFAS from MassDEP is available at bit.ly/38ZqXhD.

At this week’s Wendell Selectboard meeting, Chair Laurie DiDonato said her town’s portion of the money for the filtration system 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 installation project 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 said the rough estimate from engineering firm Tighe & Bond to install the filtration system is $75,000, with a 20% contingency. The cost will be split between the two towns.

New Salem Selectboard member Carl Seppala attended Wendell’s remote meeting 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 (ARPA) 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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