The Town of Topsfield received a grant of up to $ 190,000 to evaluate the PFAS disposal systems for the water treatment plant. It is the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances that have been found in the city’s water supply, but so far at very low levels.
We asked Topsfield Water Superintendent Greg Krom about the subsidy, the current level of PFAS contamination, and what it might cost to remove chemicals from the water supply.
How will you use the grant?
We plan to use it to test a few PFAS removal systems. We are looking at two types of systems. The first is a granular activated carbon filter and the second is an ion exchange resin. We will examine them separately and in series. “
Do you work with consultants?
We will be working with a couple. The design firm [Wright-Pierce] with whom we have worked for our current processing plant will be the main consultant. And then there is a company [Blueleaf]… They specialize in carrying out these pilot tests.
What do current PFAS levels look like?
The numbers look good. The times we have had issues tend to be later in the summer / fall. We’re still testing every month, and we’ll see how it goes this year, but so far so good.
So, is there something going on in the summer?
As surface water dries up and we rely more on groundwater to supply wells, concentrations may increase because surface water does not dilute it as much as others. times of the year. There might be some seasonal variability because of this, but we’ll find out.
Is the water safe to drink?
That’s a good question, and it came up during our public meeting with DEP, and they didn’t say whether it was safe or not. They saw that as degrees of risk. Of course, if there is no PFAS in the water, the risk is zero. At 20 parts per trillion, their point of view, or their opinion, is that it is an acceptable risk for the normal population, but people who are part of a sensitive subgroup – breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women, infants and people with an immune system. problems – that 20 parts per trillion is an unacceptable risk and that they should use bottled water.
Do you have a timeline for evaluating both systems?
The grant is based on the state’s fiscal year, so that work has to be done by the end of June of this year, so it’s a tight schedule.
Does that mean you might have some answers this summer?
We will have more information. My understanding is that both systems will remove PFAS. What I hope to know is what size the filters would need, as many cities use both systems, as we are only testing 18 compounds at the moment, and there are thousands of them, and the EPA go do it. start doing testing in the next few years where they will test for 25 more compounds. I think some people install the two systems in series.
Will this increase water prices?
It will be. How much would depend on the size of the systems. DEP told us that we may qualify for zero interest loans, which would reduce the impact on rates. Additionally, there are operational expenses where the media that is in these filters cannot be reused or regenerated like the media we have now, so it’s a one-time use. When it’s spent, you take it out and replace it. Maybe every two or three years you need to replace the media in these systems. For the green sand system that we have now, the replacement cycle is every 15 to 20 years.
Do you have any idea of the cost?
It’s too early to tell, but we’re talking… you know, millions of dollars. There is no space in the current plant footprint to install these systems, so we will have to construct a new building. There are additional treatment systems that should be installed due to how they work. They cannot contain chlorine. Thus, the water which is conveyed to them must be de-chlorinated and then re-chlorinated after passing through these filters. We should have more information after the pilot test.
PFAS are in so many things. Is there a movement to change this?
It’s amazing in the number of things it contains. In many ways, it looks a lot like asbestos, sort of a miracle material, and asbestos is in an incredible number of products, and so is PFAS. I think they moved to eliminate some of them, but one of the reasons there are thousands of these chemicals … they’re all man-made, they’re all chemicals design where they sometimes forbid one and they can modify it. little bit and make a new one, and it has similar properties. It’s kind of a mole in some ways.
Wouldn’t it be easier to get rid of chemicals?
We have a lot of catching up to do. These chemicals have been in use since the 1950s and they just don’t go away. In many ways they just recirculate, even after we take them out of the water, these resins, the media with which we capture these PFAS compounds, usually go, as I understand it, to an incinerator. . And I’m not quite sure they get destroyed during the cremation process.
These are very long-lived compounds, aren’t they?
Yes. This is one of the advantages for them, but it also turns out to be a curse.