Contamination of PFAs in Acton
BY KATARINA SPASOJEVIC '24
What are PFAS and who does it affect?
For those who get an annual water report in the mail by the Acton Water District, which includes 95% of Acton’s households, you may know that Acton’s water supply has been contaminated with toxic substances known as PFAS. According to the CDC, PFAS, also known as per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made substances common in heat, grease, and water resistant products. They are most notably associated with cancer, damage to various organs, and increased newborn death. PFAS chemicals bioaccumulate, or build up in an organism’s tissues, because they resist degradation from the environment and the body.
What is Acton’s Current PFAS Situation?
The Acton Water District (AWD), which supplies water to 95% of residences in Acton, has exceeded the current MassDEP standard for PFAS concentrations in drinking water. Since October 2020, the MassDEP has regulated a sum of six PFAS chemicals with a standard concentration of less than 20 parts per trillion (ppt). On April 2nd, 2020, the Acton Water District had its highest PFAS concentration recorded with 47.24 ppt at the North Acton Water Treatment plant. However, in 2022, PFAS concentrations have stayed under 30 ppt due to actions taken by the Acton Water District to decrease concentrations, alleviating some concern.
How is the AWD combating PFAS contamination?
The Acton Water District recommends that pregnant women, nursing mothers. and infants drink bottled water tested for PFAS. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health requires companies licensed to sell or distribute bottled water to test for PFAS. Older children and adults can drink the Acton Water District supply because the 20 ppt regulation is across a lifetime of exposure. Short-term exposure does not pose immediate health risks.
As a long term solution, GAC (Granular Activated Carbon) filters will be used to reduce PFAS concentrations within the healthy range.
The Acton Water District Board of Commissioners voted to join thousands of water providers in litigation against the manufacturers of PFAS: Chemours, Dupont de Nemours, and Corteva inc. In June, 2023, the parties agreed to a settlement. The three companies are expected to pay $1.19 billion to public water suppliers, who have documented or required monitoring of PFAS, towards the remediation of PFAS contamination.
The AWD offers rebates to residential water customers in sensitive subgroups for assistance with bottled water purchases. If eligible, a credit is applied to one’s quarterly water bill, for those who receive a direct bill.
What Can Acton Residents Do?
Certain home filtration devices, such as GAC and reverse osmosis (RO), can reduce PFAS concentrations. GAC treatment devices trap PFAS in filters. RO devices remove and excrete PFAS in a concentrated wastewater stream which should be discharged. However, discharging must be compliant with state and local regulations to avoid environmental contamination.
Private well tests have found concentrations that exceed hundreds of parts per trillion (ppt). The MassDEP recommends that all private drinking water wells be tested for PFAS contamination every 10 years, especially if the well is close to a known source of PFAS or water supplies where PFAS exist.
Consumer products and food are the largest source of exposure to PFAS. To decrease your PFAS concentrations, limit exposure to products such as: firefighting foams, stain and water resistant clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper food packaging, non-stick cookware, and numerous cosmetic products.
To maintain strict regulation of PFAS, Acton citizens can become politically involved. Local organizations include the Acton Water District Board of Commissioners—an elected board meeting biweekly as part of the AWD, the Water Resource Advisory Board—a volunteer town committee that discusses PFAS, and the Green Acton Water Committee—a committee focusing on advocacy and education for water quality in Acton.