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School Committee Gets Update on District’s Water Quality

The School Committee received an update about the district’s water quality in the wake of the report that the town’s supply has the chemical compounds called PFAS at levels above the new state standards.

As reported by BNEWS, as the result of a new state drinking water standard, the Town of Burlington completed testing for this family of chemical compounds. The results indicate the presence of PFAS in a concentration of 40 parts per trillion (ppt), above the new standard of 20 ppt.

PFAS are a family of manmade chemicals used for non-stick coatings and firefighting foams among a list of other products. Manufacturing of certain PFAS was discontinued in the U.S. decades ago, but they may still be used in imported products and they are resilient and do not degrade easily in soil and water and as a result, they are widely found in the environment and many consumer products where they migrate to the food supply and drinking water.

MassDEP recommends consumers in a sensitive subgroup (pregnant or nursing women, infants and people diagnosed by their health care provider to have a compromised immune system), are advised not to consume, drink, or cook with water when the level of PFAS is above 20 ppt.

Superintendent Eric Conti said the School Department has worked closely with the Burlington Department of Public Works and is in regular contact with Director John Sanchez.

“We rely on them for all of this information,” he said. “We ask lots of questions and they are always very forthcoming with the answers.”

Director of Operations Bob Cunha said the drinking fountains in the schools are currently turned off due to the pandemic. He said unfortunately the water systems in the buildings cannot be equipped with the types of filters that filter out PFAS.

“The systems that we have are not capable of accepting those types of filters,” he explained.

Cunha reiterated what Sanchez has been saying since this news came down – this is not a new situation and that the only thing that has changed is the standards set by the state. He said PFAS were in the water before but were just not regulated. He also said the health risks develop over a long period of time.

“That being said, we’re definitely not taking the stance that we should drink it but understand that measurements are over a lifetime, not one glass,” he said.

Finally, Conti said this is an issue that cannot be solved by the schools alone. He noted that the DPW is drawing in more water from the MWRA and will take in even more once the final connection is made. They are also working to get filters that can remove PFAS installed at the Mill Pond Reservoir.

“This is a community issue and we are part of the community,” he said. “If there are community solutions, we’ll be beneficiaries of them.”