• Jon Winkler / Nashoba Valley Voice

    Jim Ropp, project manager of KOMAN Government Solutions, showing the levels of PFAS chemical compounds in public water wells in Ayer and Devens

  • Jon Winkler / Nashoba Valley Voice

    Katie Thomas, project manager at KOMAN Government Solutions, showing a map of an area where local water wells were possibly contaminated with PFAS chemical compounds

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DEVENS — Research, testing and treatments are still ongoing at multiple Nashoba Valley water wells to address reports of chemical compounds in drinking water.

The Restoration Advisory Board held a public meeting on July 25 updating residents of Devens, Ayer and Shirley on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ progress into investigating traces of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in local wells.

Investigations date back to 2016 when the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection required towns with water wells surrounding the former Fort Devens to test for the chemical compounds after reports claimed the wells were contaminated.

Jim Ropp, project manager for Koman Government Solutions, said that traces of PFAS were only found in wells in Ayer and Devens, with Shirley water wells having no detections.

Ropp noted that investigators tested for 14 different PFAS compounds and used two barometers for measurement: the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion and 20 parts per trillion, a marker that the state DEP could soon implement as its own health advisory level.

Ropp noted that considerable traces of the compounds were found in three of Ayer’s water wells: two in Grove Pond and one near Spectacle Pond. Traces of the chemicals were also found in two Devens water wells: the Shabokin water well and the Patton water well, both located in the southern part of Devens.

Dan Groher, a remediation engineer for the Army Corps, said the engineers and the Ayer officials are implementing temporary and permanent treatment methods for PFAS in the water.

For the temporary treatment, Groher said the engineers and town are finishing installing two 20,000-pound carbon vessels next to one of the Grove Pond wells.

Grover said water would be filtered through the carbon canisters before being transported to Grove Pond’s water treatment plant. He added that the vessels cost $750,000 to be built and $75,000 to change out the vessels every couple of months, both paid for by the Army. The vessels should be online by Monday, July 29 and are expected to run for about a year.

Mark Wetzel, superintendent of Ayer’s Department of Public Works, said the permanent treatment of the PFAS levels would be an ion exchange system added on to the Grove Pond treatment plant. Wetzel said that addition would treat up to two million gallons of water daily and would be a more efficient PFAS treatment system than carbon. The $3.2 million addition to the plant near Barnum Road is expected to start being installed in August and then online by fall 2020.

For those looking to have their voices heard on the issue, Devens is in the midst of creating a Community Involvement Plan. The town posted a written questionnaire and an online survey on its website in July, with plans to schedule and conduct interviews with concerned community members in August. Devens looks to submit a draft of the Community Involvement Plan by October 11 this year.

Katie Thomas, another project manager at KOMAN Government Solutions, broke down the three areas where possible contamination locations and neighboring water wells were investigated.

“We thought it’d be best to segregated the areas of investigation,” Thomas said.

Area 1 consisted of wells and inspection areas in Ayer and Harvard, with KOMAN identifying four wells of interest. Thomas said that KOMAN has performed 95 vertical profiles of land, sampled 31 monitoring wells and collected 14 surface water and sediment samples. Thomas added that KOMAN plans to install and sample more monitoring wells.

“I feel like we got a fairly good concept of contamination in Area 1,” she said.

Area 2 consisted of wells and inspection areas in Devens, with five noted areas of contamination. These include two former gas stations, the Shepley’s Hill Landfill and the Devens Fire Station. Though KOMAN has performed 73 vertical profiles of wells and sampled 75 monitoring wells, Thomas said that there was more work needed before coming to a conclusion.

“We’re not quite done,” she said. “We’re not quite as far as we are with Area 1. We want a better understanding of the groundwater flow.”

Area 3 consisted of multiple wells and areas of contamination in Ayer and Shirley.

The noted sites sections of the former Moore Army Airfield, including the drum storage area and the fire training area. Thomas said the work in Area 3 only started at the beginning of July, hence only three vertical profiles having been performed and 43 monitoring wells sampled.

“We’ve come up with a plan to install more monitoring wells for groundwater flow,” she added. “The next round of town water supply sampling is scheduled for August.”

Private water wells in Harvard are also set to be sampled this fall. The next Restoration Advisory Board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 17 in Ayer.

Jon Winkler: jwinkler@nashobavalleyvoice.com