DEVENS – One suspected cause of contaminated drinking water in the Nashoba Valley area has been pinned down.
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. focusing on civic action for a healthy environment, reported earlier this month that firefighting foam made with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, was used at the former Fort Devens military base.
The EWG claims bits of the foam entered into nearby sources of drinking water and ground water, causing traces of PFAS to enter the water supplies in neighboring communities of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley.
Devens is one of 305 military locations throughout the U.S. that the working group claims to have also used Aqueous Film-Forming Foams, or AFFF.
Six other locations in Massachusetts were found to have used the foam, including the Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, a former military training annex in Sudbury and a naval air station in South Weymouth.
Nationally, the foam was also used at locations in Ohio, Florida, Oklahoma and California.
The working group said that the Department of Defense would use the AFFF foam in training exercises involving crashes or fires.
“The Defense Department worked with 3M to create AFFF, has known it was toxic for decades and now has the responsibility to clean up legacy pollution,” Scott Faber, the working group’s senior vice president for government affairs, said in a press release. “It’s clear that the military is failing to take responsibility for PFAS pollution, and that the extent of PFAS pollution on or near military bases is much bigger than has been disclosed.”
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection required towns with water wells surrounding the former Fort Devens to test for PFAS back in 2016.
With public concern of water contamination heightened this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and MassDevelopment have been trying to find the specific locations of the source of the contamination and address them locally.
According to the DEP, there are many gaps in the current scientific literature, but it is believed that PFAS may affect human health.
Most research is based on animal studies and scientists are still unsure of the difference between how animals and humans respond to PFAS. PFAS exposures in these studies have been associated with changes in thyroid, liver, and kidney function, as well changes in hormone levels.
Devens Utility Manager Jim Moore said late last week that multiple Granular Activated Carbon filters were installed in the MacPherson and Shabokin water wells in Harvard in August and September to eliminate PFAS. Moore added that work to install three resin filters at the Patton water well in Devens is ongoing and expected to be finished by the end of December.
In Ayer, two water treatment plants are set for construction at two town water wells: one at Spectacle Pond that is being paid for by the town and one at Grove Pond being paid for by Army.
Mark Wetzel, superintendent of the Ayer Department of Public Works, said late last week that the treatment plant at Grove Pond is currently under construction and hopes the plant will be done by June 2020.
He added that the Spectacle Pond plant is still in the design phase, which is expected to be finished by April 2020.
Devens closed as an active military base in 1996. Devens, as it is known today, houses military reserve units and many commercial and industrial enterprises overseen by MassDevelopment.