Friday, November 18, 2016

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection: Barnstable Municipal Airport may contribute to water contamination

The state Department of Environmental Protection has sent a letter to the Barnstable Municipal Airport saying firefighting foam may have contributed to contamination of soil and groundwater near town drinking wells.

HYANNIS — The county's fire training academy may not be the only cause of contaminated soil and groundwater near town drinking wells.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has notified Barnstable Municipal Airport officials that the airport has been identified as potentially responsible for some of the contamination that has so far been blamed on activities at the Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy.

The academy is situated on a 6.2-acre property on South Flint Rock Road, just north of the airport. A well field serving residents and businesses in Hyannis is in close proximity to the academy and airport.

In a Nov. 10 letter to airport Manager Roland “Bud” Breault, the state contends the airport may be responsible for releasing chemicals into the groundwater, including 1,4-dioxane — a solvent used in the manufacture of other chemicals — and several perfluorinated compounds or “contaminants of emerging concern” found in firefighting foams. The foams have been used and stored at the airport, according to the letter. Monitoring wells at the north ramp of the airport and at a Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority parking lot have been found to contain concentrations of the contaminants at a level beyond the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory limit, according to the seven-page letter.

The state DEP is requiring that the airport submit a plan on or before Dec. 15 to address cleanup of the contamination.

“From our standpoint, we’re not surprised. We thought we had a regional issue,” said Barnstable County Administrator John “Jack” Yunits Jr. “It was clear to us that there were other factors contributing to the on-site contamination.”

Breault declined to comment on the letter from the state.

No other entity in the area, other than the academy and the airport, has been identified as a potential source of the contamination, according to DEP spokesman Joseph Ferson.

On the same day the airport was notified about its potential contribution to the contaminated water, state officials notified Barnstable County that they have approved, with conditions, a plan submitted in late September to clean contaminated soil and groundwater at the academy.

“The project is out for bid with contractors, and bids are due next week,” said Thomas Cambareri, director of water resources for the Cape Cod Commission.

The plan calls for excavation, removal and disposal of contaminated soil at a “hot spot” on the property, which was found to have more than 3,000 times the federal health advisory level for PFOS, one of the “chemicals of emerging concern” commonly found in firefighting foams.

The foams, used in training exercises at the academy until 2009, are widely believed to be the source of contamination affecting three wells servicing the Hyannis Water System since 2015. The foams are also frequently used at airports.

While there have been water use advisories within the past year, the town of Barnstable has installed carbon treatment units on affected wells to remove contaminants and ensure the water is safe to drink and use.

The excavation work at the academy is expected to occur, weather permitting, in December and the project should be completed in a matter of days, Cambareri said.

“It’s not a big dig out,” he said. “We will then monitor the groundwater with the expectation that the concentrations of PFOS will drop.”

In addition, the county requested approval to expand the existing groundwater recovery and treatment system currently in operation at the academy site to prevent further migration of contaminants toward town wells.

The one concern highlighted in the state response to the county was the proposed use of RemBind, a powdered reagent that binds up and immobilizes contaminates in soil. The county plans to apply RemBind to the bottom of the excavated hot spot, but the state is requesting monitoring of the area to ensure the powder does not release metal byproducts into the groundwater.

“RemBind is an innovative technology,” said Cambareri. “They (DEP) just want to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease.”

The county allocated $232,000 earlier this year for the initial cleanup effort, which still appears to be sufficient, according to Yunits and Cambareri.

While the initial cleanup operation at the site can move forward, a lawsuit filed in July by the town of Barnstable against the county seeking more than $2 million in damages for contamination of the Hyannis water supply continues to loom large.

Charles McLaughlin, assistant town attorney for the town of Barnstable, said the coming week could bring significant developments in the case.

“The answers to our complaint and additional discovery are due next week at Barnstable Superior Court,” said McLaughlin. “In the meantime, significant discussions are occurring in the coming week with the county that could determine where we’re headed.”

“Without hesitation, despite this new information regarding the airport, we remain committed to working with the town of Barnstable in a reasonable fashion to find a solution and make sure this never happens again,” Yunits said.

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