Jon Winkler
The entrance to the location of two Pepperell water wells on Bemis Road.

PEPPERELL — With concerns of chemical levels rising in two local water pumps, the town is looking to build a filtration plant at the end of Bemis Road.

Joe Jordan, the town’s water and sewer superintendent, was quick to point out last week that this plant is not meant to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, which have been detected in Ayer water wells in the last two years. Jordan said that the origins of the plant came about when high levels of naturally-occurring iron and manganese were detected in one of the two water wells located at the end of the road.

“Bemis One was really the culprit that seemed to be showing higher levels of iron and manganese,” Jordan said. “Three years ago, we shut off Bemis One, we just stopped using it.”

Jordan noted how residents did issue complaints about their public water being discolored. He added that his department did a “really aggressive” cleaning of town water pipes and things quieted down.

“The goal was that Bemis Two would maintain those really low levels and would buy us some time to figure out what we wanted to do,” he added. “But over the last two years we’ve noticed Beamis Two has been creeping up.”

While the amount of chemicals haven’t reached levels of serious health risks, Jordan said his department still notified the town of the rising levels. The department then contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection last year to see what could be done, with the recommended treatment be greensands filtration. Jordan described greensands similar to a pool filtration system, using chemicals to raise the PH of the groundwater to make chemicals and metals that are usually insoluble able to be filtered out.

Jordan added that the plant will be constructed closer to Bemis Two after observing how close that well is to a groundwater source.

“We wanted to keep the plant as close as we could to the actual wells,” Jordan said.

While Bemis One remains offline, Bemis Two is only used on a limited basis in the winter. However Bemis Two has to be used more frequently due to the higher demands in the summer, along with the other wells used by the town located on Jersey Street and Nashua Road.

As for the plant, the structure is estimated to be approximately 3,200 square feet and cost around $7.4 million. A loan authorization for $8 million was approved at this year’s annual Town Meeting in May. Jordan said that the town was set to put the project out to bid last week in the hopes to award the bid by the fall. If all goes well without too much delay, Jordan anticipates the plant being completed by May 2021.

“We interceded before there was a problem and we’ve tried to keep on the forefront of this before it gets to be a critical issue,” he added.

Jon Winkler: jwinkler@