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Littleton Water Department to pause water mixing in April, raising PFAS levels

Littleton Water Department to pause water mixing in April, raising PFAS levels
Littleton Water Department to pause water mixing in April, raising PFAS levels

LITTLETON — Residents received a notice earlier this month that PFAS levels may rise temporarily in their drinking water during the month of April.

The notice advised pregnant and nursing women, guardians of infants under the age of 1 and those with compromised immune systems to avoid drinking the water, using it to make infant formula or using it for cooking pasta or other foods that absorb the liquid. There is no recommendation for individuals not in those groups to avoid the water.

The water department will be offering a bottled water credit for those in sensitive groups. Residents can take advantage of that program by calling the department at 978-540-2222.

PFAS are “forever chemicals” that are primarily used in nonstick household products and firefighting foams. Their use has largely been discontinued in the U.S., but they do not degrade easily. Littleton, as well as many other towns and cities across the state and country, has put a plan in place and secured state funding to build a new water treatment facility, which is expected to be completed by spring 2023.

In the meantime, the town has been mixing the contaminated source, the Spectacle Pond well, with water from Beaver Brook well to dilute the PFAS level below the state-mandated level of 20 parts per trillion. However, Beaver Brook is scheduled to undergo regular and necessary maintenance next month, so on high-demand water days, the water department expects Spectacle Pond well may have to be utilized.

Littleton Electric Light & Water Department General Manager Nick Lawler said the Spectacle Pond PFAS levels, first identified in August 2019, are just above the state standard.

“We’ve been highly communicative with the residents,” he said. “There’s a part of me that feels that we still won’t go over that contaminant level that was set by DPW, and there’s no risk to the public, we didn’t want to get into a situation where we went over that 20 parts per trillion and jeopardize people’s health without communicating with them.”

He added that it’s possible the water needs won’t necessitate turning on the Spectacle Pond water, or that the pond won’t reach critical PFAS levels, because its levels have dipped below 20 parts per trillion in the past. If residents reduce their water usage throughout the month, the likelihood of needing to use Spectacle Pond water will decrease.

Lawler emphasized that the water mixing procedure is a stopgap measure ahead of the completion of the water treatment facility and said the groundbreaking ceremony will likely happen in June.

“There’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel for the department and the community to start solving this problem,” he said.