Read the full article by Barbara Moran (WBUR)
“Bill Wachur thought he was just being cautious when he decided to test his well water for PFAS.
His home in Stow, Massachusetts, was nowhere near the town’s old fire station or the former mill — sites where the toxic chemicals had seeped into the small town’s groundwater.
‘I felt that our water was fine,’ he said. ‘It was just kind of, you know, checking the boxes.’
The results, however, shocked and scared Wachur. His water tested at 52 parts per trillion, more than twice the state’s public drinking water standard.
‘Now you’re anxious because, I mean, you’ve lived here for 37 years, and you’ve brought up two children here,’ he said. ‘You don’t know what the long-term health implications are for all those years of drinking maybe tainted water.
‘And after that it was kind of a scramble to figure out — what are you going to do?’
Clean water advocates say Wachur’s story is not uncommon. For decades, PFAS chemicals have been used in consumer products, industry and firefighting foam, and contamination is widespread.
More than half a million people in Massachusetts get their drinking water from private wells. But, neither the state nor the federal government regulate PFAS in these wells. (The state had a program to test wells in certain towns for PFAS, but that’s been completed.)
Boards of health can set local regulations for PFAS and other contaminants, but rules vary widely from town to town. Stow, for instance, has some guidance but no mandates. These gaps leave residents with private wells vulnerable to PFAS contamination.
Wachur wasn’t sure where to turn. He searched the internet and exchanged emails with a sympathetic PFAS researcher at Duke.
‘A lot of people have private wells,’ Wachur said. ‘If they want something done right away, they’re going to have to act on their own.’
But, a full-house filtration system can cost thousands of dollars. Wachur found a smaller filter to install under his kitchen sink. It cost him close to $600.
‘It is a very confusing system and it really leads to a lot of regional inequities,’ said Amie Shei, president and CEO of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, an advocacy group focused on health equity. There are 85 communities in Massachusetts where at least 60% of residents get their water from private wells. Most of these towns are in rural areas.
‘Those who live in urban areas have access to public water infrastructure — all of those systems are routinely tested and maintained,’ Shei said. ‘In more rural parts of the state, there is not public water infrastructure, very few protections, lots of risk for contamination as a result of poorly maintained systems.’
‘They had to create a new color for us’
In Stow, every single home relies on private well water. This makes it difficult to grasp the full extent of PFAS contamination in the town.
In her office, Stow Town Administrator Denise Dembkoski looked over a town map spread across a table. The map was color-coded from green to yellow to red to show the severity of known PFAS contamination.
Dembkoski pointed out a couple spots colored purple. ‘We had levels over 90 parts per trillion, so they had to create a new color for us,’ she said.
Dembkoski taps one hot spot: the site of the old fire station. Activity on the site contaminated the drinking water supply for nearby homes and buildings — including town hall, which is why its drinking fountains are covered with ‘out of order’ signs. Because Stow owns the fire station, the town is paying for testing and filters for the wells it contaminated.
But most of the map isn’t colored in. Not because there’s no PFAS, but because people haven’t reported their results, or haven’t tested at all. Testing a well for PFAS costs a couple hundred dollars — more than some people can afford, or want to pay.”…