By Kristen Levine, Reporter
After PFAS, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, were discovered in Princeton Town Hall campus public supply well, immediate action was taken to minimize damage. Though they are not supplied by the well, local residences adjacent to the Town Hall campus have also tested positive for PFAS presence. An action plan was filed with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to aid those affected.
“Seventy-five homes in Princeton have been affected by PFAS to some degree or another,” said Princeton Selectboard Chair Karen Cruise.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been in circulation in the USA since the 1940s. The chemicals are present in many things such as food packaging, fire-fighting foams, paints, and cleaning products. Nicknamed “forever chemicals” because their breakdown time can last upwards of thousands of years, PFAS has been shown to have adverse effects on human health.
“[PFAS] was first found in the Town Hall complex public supply well,” Cruise said. “Public supplies need to be tested periodically. [It is] an old well in the Town Hall complex and we notified the state it was a public supply. That’s how we got caught up in this; they’re slowly testing, starting with big supplies first.”
Testing expanded beyond the campus to local residents caught in the contamination. Affected residents have been receiving monthly water deliveries as well as frequent testing of water quality. Twenty-five homes have gone a step further in the remediation plans, receiving point-of-entry treatment systems, or POETs. The POET has carbon filters that treat water utilized by the entire household and enable clear testing of water quality. While all properties affected are part of the remediation plan, only some so far have necessitated use of the POET system.
“If there is a quantity of PFAS 6 – six components less than 20 parts per trillion in the water – the treatment is to tell the homeowner not to use the water for drinking or cooking foods that absorb water. If there’s less than 20, it’s delivering water to them,” Cruise said. “If it’s 20 [parts per trillion], treatment is putting a POET system in. Everyone that needs one now has gotten one.”
Cruise stated that households with the highest PFAS concentrations were prioritized for POET installation.
“We had to space out [installation],” she said. “It’s one person doing it, it takes time to get them in and some of [the affected houses] are old with no easy access to the basement.”
While the state has given some money to pay for water tests, it has been a small number, with only 25 tests on the state’s bill. Cruise cited consumable expenses in the Town operating budget for Fiscal Year 2022 – consumables such as water tests – that are used up once applied.
“Princeton is paying the majority, but it’s spread out over the entire town – it’s not only the affected households that have to pay,” Cruise said. “Residents knew it was a big expense. It’s not going away next year. We need to figure out what the source is and mitigate it.”
Two potential sources are the Town Hall Center fire station, or the site of the 2017 Princeton Inn fire. Both are viable sources of fire-fighting foam, a type of foam known as Aqueous Film Forming Foam or AFFF. The foam was recalled from use in Massachusetts fire departments in 2018.
“Foam was used at the fire,” Cruise said. “It was brought to the fire by another fire department as part of a mutual aid effort. There were 22 departments there, and we don’t know who brought it. It was pretty chaotic at the scene and a lot was going on, and there’s no record of who took a bucket of foam and sprayed it on the fire.”
At the 2021 Town Meeting held on May 15, Princeton residents voted in favor of allocating $326,530 toward PFAS monitoring and testing, as well as bottled water and potentially filtration systems for affected households.
When asked how to prevent further PFAS contamination, Cruise said, “Everybody’s aware that you should not use [AFFF] anymore. The only way to solve this is if the country or the world bans these chemicals. We need to ban them as a class. There’s nothing else Princeton itself can do rather than support national efforts and be careful ourselves. This was not a chemical anyone knew was bad; it was what they were trained to use, and it’s everywhere.”
For more information, including maps of affected areas, PFAS data, and the most recent presentation on the PFAS Well Monitoring Project, visit www.town.princeton.ma.us/board-health/pages/pfas-information.
By Kristen Levine, Reporter