Year in Review: Westfield water contamination issues

WESTFIELD—Perhaps the most lasting topic over the past year-plus in Westfield has been water.

There were many reactions to the water contamination issue in 2017, as residents and city officials took action in regards to the presence of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in Westfield water. The issue spilled over from the year prior, when two of the city’s wells were shut down due to levels of PFCs greater than the lifetime advisory given by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The city has continued to work on addressing the issue, along with the Air National Guard located at Barnes Regional Airport, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), among others.

Barns Aquifer map from the BAPAC website

Among the actions by residents was the creation of the group, Westfield Residents Advocating For Themselves (WRAFT). The group was formed early in February 2017, and has attempted to advocate for both themselves and residents regarding the PFC contamination.

Since its formation, WRAFT has held two public forums for those interested in their work, including an introductory meeting in May, and a more informational and scientifically-based discussion featuring several experts on the matter in October.

In addition to its work in attempting to educate and advocate, WRAFT has also partaken in online petitions. These online petitions have been done in an attempt to gain state and federal involvement in getting blood serum testing and biomonitoring for residents who may have been exposed to PFCs in the city’s water.

Residents were also informed and updated about the city’s water issues during two public forums held by city, state and Air National Guard officials.

The first meeting in April, which included residents lined outside both entrances to City Council Chambers in City Hall where the forum was held, provided residents with information and updates from city officials, as well as members of MassDEP and the Air National Guard.

Among the items discussed were the possible origins of the PFC contamination, which may be linked to the use of firefighting foam that occurred on the base by the Guard previously.

Residents fill the city council chambers, flowing out through the exits, during the April water public forum. (WNG file photo)

Also discussed were the steps the city was taking in solving the issue, including using granular-activated carbon (GAC) filters to treat the water for PFCs, and constructing a facility to house them.

Then, discussed from MassDEP was the testing of private wells, which continued beyond the forum, with results continuing to show on the city’s website. MassDEP, among its efforts, also provided bottled water for residents whose private wells tested above certain limits, as well as carbon filtration systems in the longer term.

During the second public forum held by the city, the predominant topic of discussion was that of biomonitoring.

Along with members of the groups from the previous meeting, the residents were also provided with information and discussion by Dr. Marc Nascarella, Director of the Environmental Toxicology Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

During this meeting, the Guard, through Col. Jim Suhr, noted that they were continuing their investigatory process into the matter, which included soil testing and water sampling. This process with the Guard was reported to have started earlier in the year, according to reports in The Westfield News.

Kristen Mello stands at the podium during remarks to city, state and regional officials during the second public forum on water. (WNG file photo)

It was also reported during this meeting by MassDEP of their continuing testing, in addition to finding three wells above the EPA lifetime advisory limit, all located on Sandy Hill Road. The homes with the readings were provided with water, as well as carbon filters, which were said to be effective, according to the article.

Also at the meeting, Nascarella from DPH spoke, addressing requests from residents about biomonitoring. According to Nascarella in the article, DPH did not have the technical capability to provide such testing. However, they were looking into possibly getting a laboratory online for this purpose, but that could take time.

Nascarella also mentioned possibly doing risk assessments to “determine the potential for adverse health effects” due to PFC exposure, according to the article.

Also through the year, the city provided updates on the GAC water filtration facility that would be coming to treat water from wells seven and eight, where PFC contamination caused the two wells to be offline.

The facility, which is to be located behind the East Mountain Country Club, is still in the process of becoming a reality, though the city’s Water Department has made steps toward completing it.

According to Director of the Department of Public Works Dec. 29, the city is preparing for the project to go out to bid soon and funding for the project was previously OKed.

David Billips, director of Westfield Department of Public Works

“Probably go out to bid sometime in January and start construction in spring,” Billips said. “As soon as construction season is upon us we will likely start construction.”

This projection is a delay from what was previously suggested, and according to Billips, this was due to some permitting and land survey issues.

Regarding when the facility should be operational, Billips said this could occur in the summer or earlier.

“I would think it would be up and running sometime mid- to late summer at the latest, maybe earlier,” he said.

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