WOBURN - August marked the first time in 2022 that Woburn discovered polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) levels that exceed new pollution thresholds established by state officials, city officials recently appraised the general public.
Mayor Scott Galvin notified citizens about the latest monthly testing results via a press release posted to the city’s website late last week. The City Hall CEO disclosed the results despite the fact that Woburn is technically not yet in violation of a quarterly 20 part per trillion (PPT) testing standard set in place by the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) last year.
The new DEP guidelines are based upon the average PFAS levels found within local water supplies over a three-month period. August’s levels, measuring at 20.6, just barely exceeded the 20 PPT standard.
However, because July’s samples were reportedly invalidated due to laboratory issues, Woburn’s chances of surpassing the quarterly threshold for this testing quarter are heightened, especially since the city has noticed that PFAS levels appear to spike during the summer months for reasons unknown. The city won’t find out how it fared for the latest quarter until September testing samples are taken.
Over the past three years, Woburn has detected an average PFAS level of 17.8 PPT. However, since the testing regiment became mandatory in 2021, Woburn has twice exceeded the new thresholds.
“From January 1, 2022 thru June 30, 2022 (1st and 2nd quarter) the City has been in compliance with the new state standard. The individual monthly results have ranged from 11.6 to 18.0 ppt,” the mayor advised local residents.
“The July sample was invalidated by DEP for third party laboratory quality control reasons. We are now experiencing the typical seasonal pattern for our water with a small uptick in the results in August at 20.6 ppt,” he continued.
The mayor and the City Council first began grappling with the PFAS issue last fall, when the mayor and consultants from third-party engineering firm CDM Smith outlined a plan to invest millions of dollars into new water treatment system capabilities to remove the forever chemicals.
In April, Mass. DEP approved the city’s proposed $17.6 million expansion of the Horn Pond Water Plant, in which a new building containing a half-dozen granulated activated carbon (GAC) vessels will be used to filter out PFAS contaminates.
PFAS are chemicals that are generally used to waterproof products or create an anti-sticking or anti-staining effect on items such as pots and pans, carpets, and clothing. Today, PFAS are still commonly used in thousands of consumer products that range from beauty cosmetics and shampoos to automotive cleaners, construction materials, and electronics.
Federal officials say PFAS can cause reproductive harm to women, pose likely dangers to infants and babies in-utero, and could lead to increase risks of cancer in some individuals.
Long in compliance with a less rigid 70 PPT PFAS threshold established by federal environmental officials, the city first failed to meet the new 20 PPT state standard in the third quarter of 2021, when PFAS concentrations of 24 PPT were found.
The second infraction occurred in the fourth quarter of 2021, when levels were measured at 22 PPT.
However, Woburn has since easily passed the testing standard. For the first quarter of 2022, PFAS levels of 13 PPT were measured within testing samples. Second quarter results, based upon samples taken in April, May, and June, came back with a 15.5 PPT average.
As noted by Galvin in last week’s statement, the city’s PFAS levels have been climbing as the weather got hotter this summer. Specifically, in April, city officials detected PFAS levels of 11.6 PPT, but in May and June, those concentrations had risen to 17 and 18 PPT, respectively.
According to the mayor, citizens considered about the presence of the pollutants in the local water supply can take advantage of several initiatives aimed at providing PFAS-free water to those considered most at-risk from exposure to the forever chemicals.
Those programs include a rebate program launched in January of this year that offers a monthly $30 rebate to defray the cost of purchasing bottled water. Pregnant woman, nursing mothers, and other immunocompromised residents can apply for the rebates by visiting the city’s website or typing https://www.woburnma.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Bottled-Water-Rebate-Program.pdf into a web browser.
City officials have also installed a new water filling station at the Woburn Senior Center. The new dispenser, which relies upon water sourced from the MWRA, is situated on the side of the School Street facility.
“The DEP advises that those people in sensitive populations, which include pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants, and people diagnosed by their health care provider to have a compromised immune system should not drink or cook with water that exceeds 20 ppt,” Galvin advised citizens last week.
“If you are an adult or older child, not in sensitive populations, you may continue to consume the water because the 20 ppt value is applicable to a lifetime of consuming the water and shorter duration exposures present less risk,” he continued in the prepared statement.