AYER — Congresswoman Lori Trahan met with town officials on Tuesday to talk about reports of contaminated water.
Trahan, the representative of the state’s third congressional district, took in a presentation similar to the one offered to the public during a Board of Selectmen meeting on March 19 regarding reports the town’s drinking water is contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and polyfluoroalkyls substances, or PFAS.
With the attentive audience of Trahan, Town Manager Robert Pontbriand and other local officials, Mark Wetzel, superintendent of Ayer’s Department of Public Works, explained that PFAS are an “emerging contaminant” consisting of chemical compounds typically used to make carpets, non-stick pans and fire-fighting foam.
After the state Department of Environmental Protection required the town to test wells near Fort Devens in 2016, traces of PFAS and PFOA were found in multiple town water wells near Grove Pond.
Wetzel said that a “defining plume of contamination” has yet to be found and officials are still unsure of how the chemicals move through water sources to spread, though a possible cause could be the pumping of water in wells bringing the contaminants closer to the wells themselves.
As a method of action, the town has turned off the well with the highest level of chemical traces. With this action, Wetzel said that the town’s drinking water has chemical traces under the health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, as suggested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wetzel added that the town is planning on temporary treatment at well heads where chemical traces were detected and constructing a PFAS treatment system at Grove Pond for $4.2 million. That project was previously approved by public vote. The town frequently tests public water levels for any other contaminants, as well.
“The message is that we know the problem and are working toward a solution,” Wetzel said.
Trahan said that she wants to help the town “honor this commitment” of ensuring that the drinking water is safe for residents. She added that she and other officials have spoken with other experts about PFAS, including veterans firefighters who’ve been exposed to the compounds through using the fire-fighting foam and other products. She mentioned the importance of providing health benefits for those exposed to the chemicals.
“Once I heard about PFAS and the distribution of exposure in the communities it was affecting, we made sure to start lobbying for funding to get to the bottom of this,” Trahan said.