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Town Meeting Approves $15 Million for Filter at Mill Pond Facility to Remove PFAS Chemicals

Burlington Town Meeting voted by more than a necessary two-thirds majority to appropriate $15 million for the purpose of funding the cost of design construction, programming and configuration of a filter addition for the Mill Pond Water Treatment Plant.

The filter is meant to remove PFAS from the water supply. 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.

In May it was reported the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a new regulation setting the drinking water standard for six PFAS at 20 nanograms per liter, equal to 20 parts per trillion. According to the Burlington Department of Public Works (DPW), recent testing of the Vinebrook and Mill Pond treatment plants detected PFAS at levels of approximately 40 parts per trillion.

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.

During Town Meeting DPW Director John Sanchez said he had been hearing a number of questions about the project he wanted to address. The main question was why build a new filtration system to address the issue if the town is in the process of connecting to the MWRA for its water.

Sanchez said that while the town does have a connection through Lexington that is currently running it does not supply enough water to meet the needs of the town. Currently it supplies 1 million gallons per day while the town uses roughly 3 million gallons per day and can exceed 5 million gallons per day at the height of summer.

The second phase of the MWRA connection through Arlington will have the capacity to supply up to 6.5 million gallons per day but that project, Sanchez said, likely won’t be completed until 2024. The filtration system would, therefor, provide much-needed redundancy of safe drinking water in the meantime.

Further, Sanchez said that while the plan is to abandon the Vine Brook plant they do expect to keep the Mill Pond Treatment Center operational into the future. One reason to do this is redundancy in case there is an issue with the MWRA water or connection. Another is that by using water from Mill Pond the town will save about $1 million per year by requiring less from the MWRA.

Town Meeting agreed with the arguments presented and voted 85-9-7 to approve the project.