Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances ("PFAS") are a unique class of man-made compounds that were used to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products. Most have been phased out of use in the United States but some can still be found in consumer products and firefighting foams. PFAS chemicals are now more or less ubiquitous in the environment and are significant because they persist, meaning that they do not break down and they bioaccumulate, meaning that they stay in human and animal systems for long periods of time.
Since exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans, many states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") have started to regulate its presence in the environment. In Massachusetts, the PFAS standard applies individually or for the sum of the concentrations of six specific PFAS compounds: perfluorooctane sulfonic acid ("PFOS"); perfluorooctanoic acid ("PFOA"); perfluorohexane sulfonic acid ("PFHxS"); perfluorononanoic acid ("PFNA"), perfluoroheptanoic acid ("PFHpA"), and perfluorodecanoic acid ("PFDA"). The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection ("MassDEP") abbreviates this set of six PFAS as “PFAS6.”
In December 2019, MassDEP, as part of its cleanup program, established a notification and cleanup standard of 20 parts per trillion (“ppt”) for PFAS6 as being protective of current and potential drinking water resources. In October 2020 MassDEP set a maximum contaminant level (“MCL”) of 20 ppt for public drinking water supplies to be protective against adverse health effects for all people consuming the water. Sampling requirements for public water supplies begin in 2021 and MassDEP has initiated some free testing in advance of that date.
MassDEP is now including private wells in these efforts, focusing on the 81 communities serving the greatest number of people with private well water systems. The list of communities can be found here.
Working with the University of Massachusetts and local boards of health, private wells will be selected for testing based upon proximity to potential PFAS sources and available funding. If a notified private well owner chooses to participate, they will provide a water sample to be tested and will be provided with the results.
Private well owners are responsible for addressing any elevated levels of PFAS found in their wells, and may be potentially liable for cleanup under Massachusetts privatized cleanup program. The full details on the cleanup program can be found here. While MassDEP and the University of Massachusetts will provide some technical assistance on reducing PFAS6 exposures, private well owners should consult with a licensed site professional and an environmental attorney prior to such testing to evaluate potential liability and defenses.
Visit the U.S. EPA website for more information here.