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July 22, 2021 2:29 PM

Press Release - PFAS in Attleboro

Dear Attleboro Residents,

I am writing to let you know about a letter you will be receiving in the mail from the City Water Department about PFAS. Let me start by saying that the quality of your drinking water has not changed; the standard set by the state has change. This new standard will affect every city and town in the state. Other states are also adjusting their standards. Massachusetts has perhaps some of the most stringent in the country.

The Federal Environmental Protection agency sets the acceptable level of PFAS at 70 parts per trillion for a combination of 2 PFAS compounds. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection established a new and even lower standard for PFAS in our drinking water at 20 parts per trillion for a combination of 6 PFAS compounds.

Attleboro along with about 58 other cities and towns in the state are in part or in whole not incompliance with this new standard. (Attleboro has two plants and one is in compliance and the other is not). But that does not mean the other nearly 300 cities and towns are in compliance as many systems have not begun State mandated sampling as of July 1, 2021. Most communities also did not participate in the MassDEP Free PFAS Lab Analyses Program; Attleboro did, starting in the fall of 2020. The map that I have attached to this post is a map presented yesterday at a Massachusetts Municipal Association meeting on this PFAS issue. Attleboro is only experiencing compliance issues at the Wading River water source. The water plant on West Street remains in compliance.  

PFAS is a family of compounds that companies have been using for decades in cookware, make up, fire protection equipment, dental floss and so much more. It is pretty much everywhere. There are some companies that continue to use PFAS and do not assume responsibility for the costly remediation that will be required by cities and towns throughout the country. There are likely to be class action suits against companies that have used PFAS in their consumer products and profited from the use of PFAS over the years. The state notified cities and towns that they were going to offer funding to test for PFAS in 2019. In an email in December 2019, the MMA noted that “The legislature appropriated $8.4 million to help cities and towns address local drinking water contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including water supply testing and grants to cover treatment, a targeted $20 million transfer to the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to help remediate PFAS contamination.” Attleboro took advantage of that funding with the free testing.

Here in Attleboro, the City’s water superintendent spoke with me about this issue in late 2019 or early 2020. In September of 2020, in an email she said to me “First, PFAS is in the final stages of becoming regulated, and we will be required to begin sampling in 2021 anyway. Secondly, if we do find PFAS in our water sources or finished water during this round of sampling, because we have a head start on monitoring, we would be higher on the list to receive grants, technical assistance, or low to no-interest loans from the State for any treatment or reservoir upgrades that may be needed.” We took advantage of the free state testing and got ahead of other cities and towns who did not participate.

In March 2021, the city council and I took the advice of the water superintendent and got ahead of this issue and funded the pilot study that will determine which means of remediation will be necessary to reduce the levels of PFAS found in the water supply at the Wading River Plant. That study is underway. We are also looking into using as much as needed of the nearly $10 million that the city received from the federal government’s ARPA program to pay for our water plant upgrades. If we are able to use ARPA money, that will mean you may not see a rate increase to pay for the water plant upgrades to make Attleboro compliant with the new state standard of 20 PPT. If the federal government doesn’t allow cities and towns to use ARPA money to remediate this particular issue, it will result in a water rate increase yet to be determined to fund the water plant upgrades.

The Massachusetts Water Works Association told us today that “ARPA is very broad in stating water infrastructure so it is my understanding that PFAS remediation would be an eligible expense.  For the ARPA funds that the state has, the Governor is trying to get support to use $400 million on water/wastewater infrastructure and that would support programs administered by the Clean Water Trust and PFAS is a priority issue for SRF so if that goes through then the state would be using ARPA to support PFAS projects.”

Compliance for the new PFAS regulation is based on a lifetime average of exposure, meaning exposure to 20 PPT or higher in the drinking water over a lifetime, considered 70 years, increases the health risks. Short term exposure has not been found to increase health risks. If this were an emergency, you would have been notified within 24 hours of our learning that Attleboro is not in compliance. Please note that Attleboro is not alone and there is nothing that our city water department did wrong to make us not in compliance. The quality of your drinking water has not changed, the PFAS standard has changed. Attleboro will meet this new standard. There is long and expensive process we need to go through and there is no one-size-fits-all remediation efforts; every city and town is different and need to be analyzed and remediated differently. But we will get there.

If you have any further questions about this issue or any issues with your drinking water, please email our water superintendent Kourtney Wunschel at water1@cityofattleboro.us. Kourtney is a chemist by training and trade and has been working for the City’s water department for over a decade. She will be able to answer your questions and concerns about PFAS and your water.

Finished Water PFAS Results in Massachusetts
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