Army Corps finds multiple potential sources of water contamination

Plans for more well sampling and filter installation underway

Katie Thomas discussing areas where possible sources of groundwater were contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
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AYER – Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailed multiple sources of groundwater contaminated with chemical compounds during the Devens Restoration Board meeting late last week.

Katie Thomas, a project manager at Koman Government Solutions, presented the Army Corps’ three prime areas of investigation. The search was to find which wells were first contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection required towns with water wells surrounding the former Fort Devens to test for the chemical compounds back in 2016 after reports of contaminated wells came to light.

The meeting was held Oct. 17 at Ayer Town Hall.

The areas spanned sections of Shirley, Ayer and Harvard. Thomas said that after investigators performed 95 vertical profiles on land and sampled 31 monitoring wells, four locations were singled out as possible areas of contamination in Area 1: Building T-1445 located near the Ayer-Harvard border that suffered a warehouse fire, Building 3713 in Harvard where a fuel oil spill happened, a former exercise site on Barnum Road used by firefighters and an area near Grove Pond.

Thomas said that “multiple sources” of contamination were found at the Building 3713 site while multiple “potential” sources of contamination were found at the Grove Pond site, though the extent of contamination at both sites has yet to be confirmed. The groundwater from the Building 3713 site flows toward Cold Spring Brook while the Grove Pond site flows toward the pond, though the impact to the pond has yet to be evaluated. Thomas said that not all possible sources were identified at the Building T-1445 site, while only one likely source area was identified at the firefighting exercise site.

Thomas then explained how Area 2 contained eight locations where sources of contamination were investigated: the Shabokin water well, the Patton water well, two old gas stations, the Devens Fire Station, the MacPherson water well, Shepley’s Hill landfill and a former DRMO/POL storage site.

The two gas stations, two water wells and fire station are located in Harvard, while the landfill and storage site are in Ayer. Of those eight locations and the 75 monitoring wells sampled in the area, only the storage site had multiple sources of contamination, which Thomas attributed to fire-fighting foam that contained chemicals common in PFAS used to extinguish a fire at the Devens Recycling Center.

One of the old gas stations had a “likely source area” identified and the Shabokin water well’s source was unknown. Thomas noted that the Patton water well’s traces were believed to originate from a former disposal area, while the Devens Fire Station had a “likely source” identified.

Area 3 only had four areas of contamination noted, which Thomas attributed to being the area where the “smallest number of work” had been completed to date. The first area of contamination was the former Moore Army Airfield, which Thomas said had multiple sources of contamination but the extent was not yet confirmed. The other three areas include the Devens Wastewater Treatment sand filter beds and two other pieces off the airfield: a drum storage area and a training area. All three of those areas had likely sources identified but the extent of the contamination had yet to be confirmed.

“There’s lots of data here,” Thomas said. “We’ve definitely learned something from all of this and we’re going to learn more.”

MassDevelopment have made significant efforts to lessen the amount of PFAS in local water wells. Jim Moore, manager of Devens Utility System, said that a single GAC filter was installed at the MacPherson water well and four GAC filters were installed at the Shabokin water well. Since the filters were installed at both wells, there were no traces of PFAS in either wells when they were sampled in September.

He added that three resin filters are expected to be delivered to the Patton water well in Devens by Oct. 30 to further flush out PFAS in the community.

As for public input on  the project, the former Fort Devens website posted a survey in July asking about how interested community members are in PFAS contamination, whether or not they’ve been affected by PFAS contamination and what environmental issues are important to the respective towns.

Amy Brand of Jacobs Engineering, another contractor for the Army, said that personal interviews with residents were also conducted since guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ask for a “broad spectrum” of community feedback. According to the data from the interviews and online surveys, 97% of neighboring residents were moderately to extremely concerned about the PFAS contamination when asked. 46% of the residents feel they had been affected by the PFAS contamination when questioned, while 96% of residents said that drinking water was the most important environmental issue facing towns when asked.

“We got comments that emphasized the more ways to get the information out, the better,” Brand said. “People are very concerned, we don’t think this issue is unknown to anybody. The plan now is to go back and do some more analysis.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 16.