PFAS, Remediation Efforts Focus of Town Meeting
The Connecticut State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) have made public their report on the extent of the Poly Fluro Alykl Substances (PFAS) pollution discovered in the wells of some residents living along Route 81. According to the report, of the 95 wells tested, 25 have come back as “action level.”
The contamination, first detected in April 2021, has been linked to the decades-long use of fire suppression foam by the town’s emergency services department as part of its routine duties. PFAS were detected in the wells of some residents living near the firehouse on Route 81, and remediation efforts have been underway since the initial detection.
According to the DPH, PFAS classification encompasses more than 12,000 different varieties of manufactured substances. While some are benign, others can harm humans and cause specific forms of cancer at high exposure levels.
Officials at the Feb. 22 meeting said they believe the contamination plume was caused by suppression foam known as Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam (AFFF) used by the town’s fire department. PFAS are used in numerous applications, however, and pinning down the contamination to a single source can be difficult. During the investigation, officials tested residential wells on Ely Lane, Fire Tower Road, Fox Run Lane, Kenilworth Drive, Overlook Farms Road, Patrick Drive, Roast Meat Hill Road, Route 81, and Wolf Hollow Lane. Public wells impacted include Killingworth Elementary School and the town campus.
According to DEEP and DPH officials, impacted residents have been provided with filters designed to remove chemicals and restore drinking water to “safe” levels. Residents have additionally been supplied with bottled water.
However, there remains a vagueness in quantifying what exactly is a harmful level of these substances, according to the experts who spoke at the meeting. Currently, the thresholds set for accumulated and specific PFAS fall under a testing mechanism that makes quantifying difficult.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and CT DEEP have set monitoring thresholds for PFAS in PPT (Parts Per Trillion), an amount considered to be so minute that experts say it is not possible to cull reliable data. According to DPH experts who spoke at the Feb. 22 meeting, levels below a certain amount are inaccurate, leading to confusion about what is considered safe and whether remediation is practical. The levels found in the local wells have been found to exceed what officials classified as “safe.”
Residents in attendance voiced concerns and wanted answers as to when and how the site cleanup would occur. Unfortunately, according to town and state officials, there are too many unknowns to accurately predict exactly how and what remediation would entail or how long it would take to implement a plan once adopted.
According to Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski, remediating is a multi-year plan of action, with numerous unknowns that will affect any remediation plan.
“There are three things that we need to do. One is design and implementation of a solution to remediate PFAS at KES [Killingworth Elementary School] and town campus wells. [We need to] install filtration systems to reduce the amount of PFAS that we are putting into the soil and groundwater, and then evaluate long-term solutions such as installing new wells with quality water and installing water lines to connect both locations,” said Gorski. “But that is a long-term solution; I’m talking really long-term. This is going to be a long haul. This is not a one-year, two-year thing. We are probably looking at a 10- to 15-year process.”
Gorski said the next step would be to find a solution to reduce further impacts of what she called a “forever chemical.”
“Next is the design and implementation of a solution to reduce further leaching of PFAS from the contaminated soil. Right now, the current thinking...is to install a membrane in the soil to minimize further leaching until technology catches up and allows us to find other ways to remediate. At some point, they may find a solution to eradicate this ‘forever chemical.’ And then identification of funding sources to assist in the effort.”
Gorski noted that several bills are coming before the State General Assembly specifically addressing PFAS remediation funding.
Gorksi’s comments highlight the factor that continued contamination at the site is occurring. Though AFFF has not been used in years by the fire department, their well is contaminated with PFAS, and continued use of water to wash and maintain their fleet of vehicles puts this water and PFAS right back into the ground.