Officials: Ayer, Shirley Drinking Water is Clean

April 1, 2019 GMT

By Jon Winkler


AYER -- Officials in Ayer and Shirley have spent the last week calming fears from residents about contaminated drinking water.

Mark Wetzel, superintendent of Ayer’s Department of Public Works, gave a presentation during the Board of Selectmen meeting on March 19 and said the town’s drinking water currently meets all safe drinking water standards set out by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile in Shirley, Water District Superintendent Brian Goodman informed the Board of Selectmen in a recent letter that there’s no problem with the town’s public water supply. The wells in Shirley have been tested and it’s safe, according to the Board of Selectmen.

In a Facebook post, a town resident forwarded similar information about the town’s water, adding that the trajectory of the underground aquifer that supplies Shirley’s public wells runs in a different direction than the contaminated conduit coming from Devens and thus was not affected.

Concerns of water contamination came to light earlier this month after a Boston Globe article noted a lack of oversight by state officials on reports of contaminated water wells surrounding Fort Devens. News reports on the matter cited toxic runoff from old landfills and dump sites at the military base, shuttered now for over 20 years, as the cause of contamination.

In September 2016, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection required towns that contained those wells to test them for perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluoroalkyls substances, or PFAS. Both of those chemicals are used to make carpets, clothing, non-stick pans and firefighting foam despite being unregulated by the EPA. The agency issued a health advisory in 2016 stating the maximum safe limit of PFOA traces in water was 70 parts per trillion.

According to Wetzel, tests were performed on the multiple water wells, including two off Westford Road and three at Grove Pond, with traces of PFOA and PFAS found in all of them. While most of the wells had low levels of the chemicals, Wetzel noted that one of the Grove Pond wells tested over the EPA health advisory level and was then shut down. To compensate for the loss of a well, Wetzel said on Thursday that two of the Grove Pond wells with lower levels of PFOA and PFAS were blended together to lessen the overall levels of chemicals in the water supply. Wetzel added that an older water well in Grove Pond is being held on standby for the town’s water but would only be used in case of emergencies given the well’s high traces of iron.

Plans for temporary treatment at the well heads, where traces of the chemicals were found, are also set to take place within five weeks and a PFAS removal treatment system at Grove Pond was approved by the town for $4.2 million. Wetzel said that the town has spent about $600,000 for well testing and designing the addition, though an agreement was made with the help of the EPA, State DEP and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to have the Army pay for the construction of the plant and the temporary treatment.

“The state hasn’t tested a lot of water systems so this is an emerging problem,” he said. “It’s a very recent development and I give the EPA and Senator Warren a lot of credit for helping make it happen.”