Officials attend water contaminant workshop

AMHERST- State lawmakers and local officials converged at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Monday afternoon for a workshop to teach them about the risks of Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and how to mitigate the danger. 

The workshop took place at UMass Amherst’s Life Science Laboratory and was designed to teach the dangers of PFAS to state and local officials in communities that are not affected by exposure to the chemicals.

State Rep. John C. Velis said that he formed a congressional caucus of State Representatives and Senators who have been taking up the issue of PFAS on the legislative level. He said he extended an invitation to the caucus and to any other officials in the state who wanted to learn more about the issue. 

“One of the things I picked up regarding PFAS is that not enough of my colleagues know about it,” said Velis, “Three years ago, if I wasn’t from an already impacted community, I would likely not know about it either.”

Several of the scientists from UMass who visited Westfield for a PFAS panel earlier this month were present at the workshop offering their expertise. Dr. Alicia Timme-Laragy, Dr. Youssef Oulhote, and Dr. David Reckhow have been researching PFAS, how they get into the water supply, what damage they can do to a person, and how to treat the water to get rid of it. 

PFAS was detected in Westfield’s water in wells on the northside due to contamination from firefighting foam used by the 104th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard. The city has taken steps to improve filtration in those wells and has claims with the Department of Defense and lawsuits against manufacturers of the foam.

Velis said that the workshop was really a “PFAS 101” course for those who are just being introduced to the issue across the state. 

“At the end of the day, we need to bring on those colleagues to get them aware and come to the realization that so many of us have been impacted,” said Velis, “I think many of them left with an amount of awareness that they did not have when they went in.”

Several Westfield City Councilors and candidates attended the workshop as well, including Ward 3 Councilor Andrew K. Surprise, At-Large Councilor Matt Emmershy, and At-Large candidate Kristen Mello.

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