Shutesbury well tests show excess forever chemicals

Staff Writer
Monday, June 07, 2021

SHUTESBURY — Two wells, one in the neighborhood around the fire station on Montague Road and the other near the intersection of Locks Pond and Wendell roads, have high levels of a chemical contaminant, according to letters sent to residents by the Board of Health.

The notices, which went out Friday and Saturday, May 28-29, advise that the results are based on preliminary tests by the Department of Environmental Protection and that additional testing is needed to confirm the presence of elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Still, the letters caution pregnant and nursing mothers, and people with compromised immune systems, to avoid consuming the well water at this time.

PFAS, or forever chemicals, are human-made and have been used in products such as water-resistant clothing, stain-resistant furniture and carpets, and paints and varnishes.

For the well closer to Lake Wyola, the correspondence notes the elevated levels of PFAS-6 showed the contamination in the samples at 48 parts per trillion, more than double the state-established maximum contaminant level of 20 parts per trillion for these PFAS compounds in drinking water. Still, the contamination was well short of the 90 parts per trillion that would trigger an investigation by the DEP’s Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup.

The health board is expected to consult with the DEP this week about next steps and whether additional wells will need to be tested.

Shutesbury is among 83 towns in the state where 60% or more of residents get their drinking water from wells. In those communities, unlike cities and towns with public water systems, about 40 wells will be selected for free testing.

Amherst recently announced that in its first round of mandated testing, no PFAS compounds were detected above laboratory reporting limits.

The notices went out just after Shutesbury resident Michael Hootstein wrote to the state attorney general’s office alleging that the Board of Health deliberated outside a public meeting, in violation of the Open Meeting Law, to prevent him and his neighbors from learning more about the results of ongoing well testing.

Hootstein claims that a map of potential hot spots for the chemicals exists and was denied him by Catherine Hilton, a member of the Board of Health. Hilton wrote to him April 19, “I think it would be premature to start planning a response to the results of testing that hasn’t happened yet.”

Hilton also advised Hootstein to encourage others to sign up for the testing, as that would do more good.

“That is impermissible deliberation,” Hootstein said in a phone interview Friday.

Hootstein, a trained hydrogeologist, added that he believes a lot of contaminated water exists in private wells and that Shutesbury, unlike neighboring Wendell, has not taken the matter seriously enough.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.