For Immediate Release: Mar 07, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
PFAS Breakthrough in Massachusetts
Army to Give Both Immediate Relief and Long-Term Treatment for Hard-Hit Town
Boston — One Massachusetts township whose drinking water supply is badly contaminated by the Army appears to in line for relief, according to a statement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The turnabout the involves toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS contained in firefighting foam, among other uses.
Several states, including Massachusetts, have widespread and serious PFAS contamination of their water supplies, in many cases stemming from military bases. In Massachusetts some of the highest PFAS levels surround the Army’s former Fort Devens. One nearby town, Ayer, is especially hard-hit with PFAS levels in its wells double or triple the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory.
On June 5, 2018, town officials wrote to EPA asking it to “hold the U.S. Army responsible and accountable” and to make the Army compensate it for the millions that the town had already spent on remediation, testing, and obtaining alternative drinking water supplies.
On July 3, 2018, then EPA Regional Administrator for New England Alexandra Dunn wrote to Margaret Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment, Safety & Occupational Health urging that the Army address the Fort Devens PFAS problem or “EPA will pursue other options, including issuance of a Safe Drinking Water Act order.”
In a reply dated August 8, Ms. Sullivan wrote that an “imminent and substantial endangerment order as suggested by EPA for Fort Devens [is] unnecessary and inconsistent.” Furthermore, the Defense Department “does not have the authority to fund the water systems’ actions.”
At the request of involved public employees, PEER started filing federal Freedom of Information Act and state public records requests. In a response this week, EPA provided a statement to PEER that the Army and Pentagon had changed positions and would aid Ayer by, among other steps –
- Removing “the contamination in Ayer’s Grove Pond Wells”;
- Provide “funding for installation of required treatment technology and future operation and maintenance of such technology” and
- “Army has made a commitment to provide alternate water in the form of bottled or bulk water, or through interconnection.”
“This is a remarkable reversal and stroke of good fortune for Ayer,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that filtration may be the key for addressing what has become a national PFAS crisis. “PEER will be working to make the Army’s treatment of Ayer standard for all military caused PFAS contamination across the country.”