Wellesley Department of Public Works Director David Cohen is set to give the Select Board an update on the town’s PFAS situation on Monday night, though recently shared updates with the Board of Public Works that will likely preview much of the July 18 briefing. The big news is that the temporary system put in place to filter out PFAS6 forever chemicals from the town’s drinking water has been up and running since mid-June, reducing evidence of such materials to a non-detect level.
The plant had been shut down since May of 2021 after elevated levels of these chemicals was detected in the town’s drinking water from four groundwater wells.
Town Meeting approved $1.5M to install the mitigation system, and the town was able to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to cover the cost of the system, expected to run for about 16 months. While taxpayers got off easy there, the purchase of Per- and PolyFluoroAlkyl Substances (PFAS)-free but pricier water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has led to a steep hike in water bills.
PFAS filtering gear at Morses Pond treatment facility
While Wellesley’s PFAS solution is working for now and puts the town in good standing with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), there’s a good chance stricter water standards will emerge, possibly requiring communities to test for more than just the current six PFAS compounds. During the July 12 Board of Public Works meeting, Cohen said “All signs point to the fact that the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will be looking to advance regulations by this time next year… so we’ll follow along.”
The EPA issued a series of drinking water health advisories in June related to PFAS, so there’s no doubt the issue is on its radar. While the advisories involve no regulations at this point, the EPA is talking parts per quadrillion vs. parts per trillion in detecting PFAS, and that foreshadows likely tougher testing down the road. Wellesley awaits DEP’s take on the EPA advisories, Cohen said.
The release of the advisories “just sort of amplifies the message that’s been out there, that PFAS can be a concern. There are potential health risks with PFAS, so it’s good to treat for it, to get it out of the water, and I think we’ve taken some good first steps there,” Cohen said at the Board of Public Works’ June 30 meeting.
Meanwhile, the town continues to stay in sync with the MWRA on both its maintenance plans and the possibility of it adding a second connection that could give Wellesley the option to draw more water from that source, if needed. Public Works board member Jeffrey Wechsler encouraged the DPW to discuss with the MWRA its PFAS testing plans, especially in light of possibly broader and more stringent requirements down the road.
The DPW also met recently with engineering consultant Wright-Pierce, which is working with the town to explore the possible source or sources of PFAS in the water. More surface and ground water sampling needs to be done around Morses Pond, but so far nothing conclusive has emerged, Cohen said. He cited a couple of monitoring wells in the North 40 that are near each other, and one had some PFAS detection while the other had none. Wellesley also plans to reach out to Natick, which is among many other local communities addressing PFAS and searching for its source.
Known sources of PFAS include food packaging, non-stick cookware, weatherproof clothing, and more, but it’s unclear what has specifically contributed to PFAS6 in Wellesley’s water.
It’s possible that the DPW could come looking for money at a future Town Meeting to expand its PFAS exploration or other PFAS-related efforts.