Nantucket Water Supply Meets New Federal PFAS Standards

Jason Graziadei •

IMG 4654 2048x1371

The federal government last week issued sweeping new drinking water standards to protect communities from exposure to PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals.’

The Wannacomet Water Company, which serves as Nantucket's public water utility, has been expecting the new PFAS standards from the Environmental Protection Agency and Wannacomet director Mark Willett said the detectable levels in the island's drinking water are already below the new federal limits.

The EPA has set so-called "enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels" for two of the most common and harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances - PFOA and PFOS - at 4.0 parts per trillion.

In the most recent test from August 2023, Willett said Wannacomet's levels were below 2.0 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS.

"We'd been waiting for this because they've been talking about it for a while, and it was along the lines of what we were expecting," Willett told the Current. "We're still good, but that doesn't mean it's not something we think about regularly. It’s a lower number to look at and we were aware of it. Now we have to pay even more attention to it."

The majority of the town's public water supply is provided by the Wannacomet Water Company that is served by five wells located in Nantucket's sole source aquifer. Two wells pump groundwater from a shallow aquifer at about 75 feet, while the remaining three wells pump groundwater from a deeper aquifer at about 150 feet. The wells are located in the center of the island in the proximity of the intersection between Milestone Road and Polpis Road.

Ayesha Khan, a member of the Nantucket PFAS Action Group, said the new standards were a step in the right direction, but showcased the need to reevaluate the country's chemical policies and hold manufacturers accountable. For Nantucket, Khan said, the stakes are high given the island's sole source aquifer. 

"Nantucket's unique circumstance, with its sole aquifer, means that anything introduced to our island remains indefinitely," Khan said. "Regrettably, the widespread use of PFAS in daily products has culminated in decades of profit for manufacturers at the expense of our community's unknowing exposure and the subsequent cleanup burden. The most effective approach to address this issue is to minimize further contamination. The solution lies in embracing the 'essential use' framework to phase out PFAS from our products. Given our sole aquifer, our margin for error is slim. “

In its announcement of the new standards last week, the EPA stated it would also be distributing nearly $1 billion in newly available funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help states and territories implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems and to help owners of private wells address PFAS contamination.

“Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said last week. “That is why President Biden has made tackling PFAS a top priority, investing historic resources to address these harmful chemicals and protect communities nationwide. Our PFAS Strategic Roadmap marshals the full breadth of EPA’s authority and resources to protect people from these harmful forever chemicals. Today, I am proud to finalize this critical piece of our Roadmap, and in doing so, save thousands of lives and help ensure our children grow up healthier.”

Beyond the PFAS contamination near Nantucket Memorial Airport caused by the release of firefighting foam mandated for FAA drills, other PFAS hotspots have cropped up around the island over the past year for properties on private wells, including several in the mid-island area on Tom's Way and in Madaket.

While residents and property owners who get their water from private wells are not subject to the new EPA standards, Willett said they still have a choice to pay for a treatment system or connect to town water if it is available. The cost to tie into the municipal water system is $5,000.

"They'll probably have to come up with a way to have a treatment system, or if they're in an area with town water, hook up to the system," Willett said of individuals with private wells who exceed the new PFAs 

Last September, the Nantucket Board of Health adopted new private water well regulations that became effective on Jan. 1, 2024. The new regulations include a requirement to test private wells for specific substances, including PFAS, prior to the sale of the property where the well is located. Those water quality tests must be submitted to the Board of Health. 

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current News