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Town Officials: Efforts to Address PFAS Contamination Progressing on Schedule

A project to help clean Burlington’s water of the presence of chemicals known as PFAS is on schedule and should be operational by the end of the year, according to town officials.

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.

As reported by BNEWS, in 2021 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.

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.

To mitigate the problem, Burlington town officials, with the support of Town Meeting, are taking a two-pronged approach to provide safe drinking water. They are continuing a multi-year process of joining the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) with a connection through Lexington with the eventual goal of discontinuing the Vine Brook Treatment Plant. They are also installing a high-tech filter at the Mill Pond Treatment Plant to remove the chemicals from the water taken in from the reservoir.

In a recent interview, Town Administrator Paul Sagarino said the connection to the MWRA is moving along with work currently being done on the Lexington side.

“As far as I know everything is going well and it’s being worked on everyday,” he said. “Unfortunately our neighbors are dealing with some traffic issues because of it but there will be benefits to the Lexington water system as well.”

Sagarino said the Mill Pond filter project is also on schedule and that it’s a very tight schedule given the safety concerns over the chemicals.

“The PFAS project is probably the fastest moving construction project in the town’s history,” he said. “We got alerted to the contamination issue with the water and came up with a solution very quickly and got it funded thanks to Town Meeting. It’s under construction as we speak at the Mill Pond Treatment Plan and we hope to have the new filter in place by December. It’s really coming along and it’s doing so according to schedule and on budget as well.”

DPW Director John Sanchez added that they expect the filter to be operational by the end of the year with the project being totally completed, including the new building housing the filter, sometime next spring.

“Construction of the filter building has started and it’s progressing well,” he said. “This is the last of three major individual contracts the town prepared in order to expedite the project.”

The reason for the three different contracts was because town officials had a concern that with the state changes the limits on PFAS for all communities at once and the high likelihood there would be many over those new limits there could be a run on the relatively rare filters needed to remove them.

“We did some forward thinking in terms of ordering,” Sagarino explained. “As soon as we had the funding source in place we ordered the filters separate from the bidding to build the new building that will house the filter. That’s sort of unusual, normally you’d include everything into the same documents but we basically got a head start in ordering the filter material. That gave us a little bit of a leg up in getting this thing online sooner than we would have and maybe a little bit ahead of some other communities.”

BNEWS will continue to follow the progress of both projects and provide updates.