DPW director clarifies water report

Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski (WNG File Photo)

WESTFIELD – At the June 5 City Council meeting, Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski reported on the Public Health & Safety Committee meeting held on May 30, at which Department of Public Works (DPW) Director David Billips gave an update on the safety of the city’s drinking water supply.
During the meeting, At-large Councilor Matthew Emmershy challenged the accuracy of the report in regards to the date that Well 1 was taken offline. Following the meeting, Billips corrected the error in an email to City Councilors.
In the report to the Public Health & Safety committee, Billips gave a timeline overview on the city’s response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health advisory on perfluorinated carbons (PFAS), including taking Wells 7 & 8 offline in December, 2015, taking Well 2 offline in February, 2018, and seeking temporary filtration for Well 2, which became functional in late 2018. According to the timeline given, Well 1 was removed from service in October, 2018, and Well 2 became the “exclusive source for the majority of the water on the north side of the city.”
The report goes on to say that samples (for the filtered water in Well 2) are taken well ahead of the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) recommended schedule, and have shown non-detect at both the granular active carbon (GAC) midpoint and point of entry to the system.
The second sheet of the report showed the test results for Well 2 from October 2018 (during the testing phase for the GAC filter), December 2018, and January through May, 2019, all showing non-detect for the compounds being tested. Well 2 was offline in November, 2018, according to the report. After the meeting, Billips said they had to shut it down because they had some problems with the piping.
Babinski told the Council that the committee voted to accept the report and place it on the Council’s shared drive, and move the item out of committee. She said during the discussion, the committee felt a better venue for future reports would be during the City Council meetings, which are televised and stored.
Babinski also said this past April, the DEP announced that changes are “in the works” to state standards for PFAS, and that they would be adding six PFOA compounds never detected in Westfield. She said the DEP is also taking under consideration lowering the health advisory levels of parts per trillion.
“The DPW director and systems engineer are invited to many conferences to speak, are sought after and congratulated for their proactive approach,” Babinski said at the City Council meeting.

City Council At-Large Matt Emmershy. (WNG File Photo)

Emmershy responded to Babinski’s report, saying that the statement that Well 1 had been offline since late last summer was not true. He said he had information through a public information request from the DEP for Well 1’s 2018 pumping volume showing that Well 1 was still in operation in November, pumping 8.7 million gallons, and another .5 million gallons in December. He then emailed the information to the councilors at the meeting.
Babinski said if he had other data that was fine, but if he wanted to challenge the report, he had to take it to the DPW directly. She said the committee voted to accept the report that they were given.
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III, who was president pro-temp at the meeting, said the motion on the floor was to remove the item from committee without action. At-large Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli, Jr. made a motion to keep it in committee, which he then withdrew when Babinski protested.
At-large Councilor Daniel Allie, a member of the Public Health & Safety Committee, said they voted to have Billips come in and report to the City Council. He said the information that Emmershy had showing the discrepancy needed to be clarified.
“The solution is already on the floor. Director Billips is going to come in,” Beltrandi said.
A motion was made to add the DEP report to the DPW report that was placed on file, which passed, with Babinski and Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski opposed.

David Billips, Director of Westfield Department of Public Works.

Following the meeting, Billips sent an email to the Councilors.
“I watched the portion on the City Council meeting on the information presented at Public Health and Safety and there appears to be some confusion. I presented no production numbers for Well 1, I only stated it had been offline since October. That should have been (early) December,” Billips wrote.
He said the Public Health & Safety committee had asked for an update on the safety of the city’s drinking water system and also the amount of water filtered from each well.
“The only water being filtered is from Well 2 and since the temporary system came online that well has been running exclusively,” Billips explained, adding that was why he offered the production numbers and test results from Well 2 at the meeting, and didn’t really discuss Well 1. He also said he did not have the exact date where Well 1 was taken offline because that wasn’t the focus of the request, “but I can tell you it was Dec. 5.”
“It was stated a year ago that Well 1 would run until the temporary treatment was online. We did have that up and running at the end of October but had some mechanical issues and had to shut it down. If came back up at the end of November, at which time we started removing Well 1. Well 1 ran one day in December (Dec. 5) so that some minor repair work could be done on Well 2. It ran for test but not to the system a couple of other times,” he wrote.
Billips then gave the production numbers for Well 1 in million gallons for 2019, which Emmershy said at the City Council meeting that he had also requested from the DEP:
January – 0.08 mg (required DEP test)
February – 0.08 mg (required DEP test)
March – 0.1739 mg (to waste, not to system)
April – 0.0
May – 0.0
“Also should be noted that Well 1 has been the preferred well of the DEP until we could get the temporary treatment running. Nothing has changed with this well and it has run with the DEP’s blessing and well under the advisory levels,” Billips wrote.
Following the meeting, Babinski said what people want and what they were trying to get at the Public Health & Safety meeting is an update on the water. She said about the information that Emmershy presented at the City Council meeting, “to have a discussion about it when we just received it was not fair to the DPW director and the department.”
Babinski also repeated that Westfield has been proactive. “You have to have faith that these people aren’t sitting on their knees,” she said.

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