Baker-Polito Administration Establishes Strict Standards for PFAS in Drinking Water to Protect Communities Across Massachusetts

by | Sep 29, 2020

The Baker-Polito Administration took action to protect public health and drinking water supplies by finalizing regulations that establish enforceable standards for public drinking water systems impacted by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and require regular testing for the contaminants.

Building on this action to protect public drinking water supplies, the Administration today also announced more than $1.9 million in awards to 10 public water supply systems in Ayer, Westfield, Barnstable and Hyannis, Hudson, Millbury, Barnstable and Cummaquid, Acton, Easton, Devens, and Braintree, Holbrook and Randolph, to support their efforts to address PFAS contamination and design treatment systems to eliminate it in their drinking water.

“Our Administration is committed to ensuring that all residents have access to safe and clean drinking water,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “By setting stringent standards for PFAS in drinking water, we can ensure that all public water systems across the Commonwealth are testing for these emerging contaminants, while providing them the tools and resources they need to address any contamination.”

“Over the last several years, the Administration has supported local communities in taking aggressive action to test for PFAS contamination and to address it quickly,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “These new standards and grant funding reinforce our commitment to ensuring that all sources of drinking water across the state are safe, clean and healthy.”

The new drinking water standard for PFAS establishes a limit of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds, called “PFAS6.” The rule requires public water suppliers to test for PFAS6 and act when there is a detection above the limit. In using the sum of six PFAS compounds, these standards provide a higher degree of protection, particularly for sensitive subgroups including pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants. There are currently no federal PFAS standards for drinking water.

“Building on our continued efforts to address PFAS chemicals, we are proud to issue these science-based drinking water standards to protect residents and the environment,” said Energy and Environmental Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “By setting these strict standards and providing technical and financial assistance to local communities and water suppliers, we can help to alleviate this threat to the health and safety of our citizens.”

The standards finalized today are based on the most up-to-date scientific data. The rules are in response to requests by citizens and public health advocates to regulate PFAS, as well as an evaluation of these chemicals by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). Recognizing that PFAS is an area of growing knowledge and information, the MassDEP regulations also require regular re-evaluation of data to determine whether standards will need to be updated in the future. The draft standards were released in December 2019, and reflect a significant public comment period.

“As part of our continual review of emerging scientific data for environmental and water quality standards, we have established these rules to protect our communities from the dangers posed by PFAS chemicals,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “The standards require all public water suppliers to take steps to lower PFAS levels below 20 ppt for all consumers. MassDEP stands ready to offer financial and technical assistance to any community facing this challenge.”

All community public water systems will be required to test for PFAS6. Large public water supplies, those serving a population of 50,000 or more, will be the first to test for PFAS6 under the new regulations, beginning their initial PFAS6 tests January 1, 2021. Public water supplies serving populations between 10,000 and 50,000 will begin initial tests April 1, 2021, and those serving a population of less than 10,000 will begin testing October 1, 2021.

The regulations detail the responsive actions that public water suppliers must take when the limit – known as a Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL – is exceeded, as well as the provisions for public notice of such an exceedance so that communities can be educated and proactive in protecting their drinking water quality.

“The public absolutely has a right to know if their drinking water is safe,” said Brad Campbell, President of Conservation Law Foundation. “These new standards are a major advance in safeguarding our water from toxic PFAS. The provision for three-year reviews will further protect us and will ensure that these critical standards keep pace with the growing body of science on PFAS toxicity.”

“This PFAS6 drinking water standard puts in place the necessary protections for people who rely on public water supplies,” said Dr. Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Clinical Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health and Chair of the Lexington Board of Health.

With increased PFAS testing underway, the grant awards announced today will provide funding to water suppliers for the planning, studies, pump tests, and engineering and design work necessary to remove PFAS contamination from water systems. Communities that have spent funds to address elevated levels of PFAS are receiving reimbursement for costs already expended while remediating PFAS contamination.

The water supply systems awarded grants are:
• Ayer – $200,000
• Westfield – $200,000
• Barnstable/Hyannis Water System – $200,000
• Hudson – $200,000
• Barnstable and Cummaquid – $200,000
• Acton – $200,000
• Aquarion Water Company/Millbury – $200,000
• Tri Town Water Board/Braintree, Holbrook and Randolph – $200,000
• Easton – $200,000
• Massachusetts Development Finance Agency/Devens (Shirley and Ayer) – $199,101

“Long-term exposure to PFAS puts vulnerable people, like pregnant women and infants, at risk for cancer and other long-term health complications. The last place in 2020 that people should have to be concerned with exposure to cancerous material is their kitchen tap,” said State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “I’m encouraged that MassDEP is offering support to the town of Barnstable as they work to reverse the costly use of these chemical contaminants near the local water supply.”

“I am pleased that actions are being taken to address the ongoing issues created by PFAS chemicals,” said State Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury), Chair of Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. “By implementing these standards and regulations we have taken a step towards protecting residents of the Commonwealth from hazardous chemicals. However, the root cause of this issue still remains, and we must continue to take aggressive actions to prevent any further contamination of our waters.”

“This new Maximum Contaminant Level is a critical step towards protecting our communities and our health from the long-lasting dangers of PFAS. It is the culmination of years of work, and years of advocacy from constituents and residents,” said State Senator John Velis (D-Westfield). “The grants provided to Westfield, and other communities in the state, will allow us to continue studying, testing and designing a system to ultimately remove PFAS completely from our drinking water system. There is still much more to be done to address the full impact of PFAS, but these regulations go a long way, and I’m grateful for MassDEP’s work and the work of so many in our Westfield community.”

“I am very grateful the town of Barnstable will benefit from this round of grants from MassDEP,” said State Representative Will Crocker (R-Barnstable). “Cleaning up and protecting our groundwater is paramount for keeping our residents safe. This funding is an important next step in the overall plan.”

“Once again, Massachusetts is moving forward to protect drinking water against PFAS contamination,” said State Representative Kate Hogan (D-Stow). “In addition to passing smart regulations to protect citizens, my colleagues in the Legislature and at MassDEP are providing funding so that our communities can test regularly and conduct plans, studies, pump tests, engineering, and design necessary to remove PFAS from water systems. We’ve also designated funds to reimburse towns like Hudson that have already expended funds to address elevated levels of PFAS.”

For additional information on the PFAS awards and the grants program, turn here.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a family of chemicals widely used since the 1950s to manufacture common consumer products and used in firefighting foams. They have been linked to a variety of health risks, particularly in women who are pregnant or nursing, and in infants. See more information on PFAS in Massachusetts here.

To help ensure the safety of drinking water around the Commonwealth, the Baker-Polito Administration secured $28.4 million in two recent supplemental budgets for water infrastructure and PFAS testing. More than $8.4 million was appropriated for the testing of water supplies for PFAS and $20 million was appropriated to the Commonwealth’s Clean Water Trust, which makes financing available to communities to address contamination issues if they are detected. To date, 87 select private wells and 34 public water systems have received free PFAS6 testing, and 42 more public water systems are in the process of being tested.

MassDEP is responsible for ensuring clean air and water, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources.