WESTFIELD—For city resident Kristen Mello, the desire for knowledge exists because of concern.
That’s why she started an online petition asking for blood testing for residents who may have been exposed to city water that had a possible contamination of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as perfluorinated carbons (PFCs), through the city’s public water supply wells.
“The contaminated wells were taken offline but before that I drank this water for 30 years,” Mello said. “We deserve to know what our exposure is.”
Over the summer, two of the city’s eight public drinking water wells were taken offline due to both having levels of PFAS or PFCs that was above a lifetime exposure limit advisory given by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the EPA, who lowered the acceptable amount of Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—types of PFAS—in drinking water from 600 parts per trillion to 70 parts per trillion in June of last year in a health advisory, the compound has a potential to be linked to health issues. According to the EPA’s advisory, studies on laboratory animals that were “informed by epidemiological studies of human populations” showed that certain levels of the substances may result in adverse health effects, including effects on children’s development, livers, kidneys, thyroids and immune systems, as well as risks of cancer.
However, according to the ATSDR’s public health statement on perfluoroakyls:
“It is difficult to interpret the results of these studies because they are not consistent; some studies have found associations, but others looking at the same health effect have not found these associations. Even though some studies have found significant associations between serum perfluoroalkyl levels and adverse health effects, it does not mean that perfluoroalkyls caused these effects.
There is no confirmation as to where the PFAS originated, but theories have suggested that aqueous firefighting foam used by the US National Guard at Barnes Regional Airport may be the source, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Guard are currently investigating. Other sources of PFAS, according to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), include stain-resistant upholstery, nonstick cookware, personal care products and water-resistant clothing.
Mello believes that it is possible that exposure to the PFAS may have occurred to residents as early as the 1950s, when the online petition said the firefighting foam were first used on the airport. If this is true, she wants to know if the levels of PFAS are in residents’ blood streams are elevated above the average level that’s found in people throughout the country.
“We are happy that they took the wells offline but prior to 2015 we didn’t know, so the only way to know is to get the blood testing done,” Mello said.
Testing like this has occurred before, namely in Pease, New Hampshire, which was one of the reasons Mello became inspired to start the petition. According to a New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS) press release, “a positive test result for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) from a well that serves the Pease Tradeport and the New Hampshire Air National Guard base at Pease” was found, and the well in question was taken offline—similar to the situation that occurred in Westfield.
According to the website for the community action group Testing for Pease, the community pushed for blood testing of residents for possible PFCs in their blood after the news came out about the contamination of the water source. The website reported that the NH DHHS eventually “responded to the community’s request to provide blood testing for the people at Pease exposed to contaminated well water (prior to May 2014) by offering two rounds of testing in 2015.”
Also according to the website, the blood tests for Pease residents came back with a higher amount of PFCs than what was found in a 2011-2012 study that was done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
Mello said that the testing was also facilitated through the ATSDR, who she also reached out to regarding her concerns.
Regarding the testing request, Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan said, “I’ve reached out to the [Westfield] Health Department and heard nothing on requirements or needs for testing.” He added that he was told that testing is “not warranted” at this time.
The city has also been working toward adding carbon filtration to the wells that are contaminated, and they are currently in the process of testing the water to see what level of that filtration is needed.
For more information on the petition, you can visit the change.org website and search for “PFAS Blood Testing for Residents of Westfield, MA Exposed to Contaminated Drinking Water.”