Wilcox & Barton, Inc. Works with New England Communities to Ensure Drinking Water Is Safe

Posted Mar 16, 2021Wilcox & Barton, Inc. Works with New England Communities to Ensure Drinking Water Is Safe

In recent years, contaminants called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been detected in drinking water, posing risks to human health at very low concentrations. While all communities want clean water for residents, the investigation, testing of water supplies, and remediation of PFAS in accordance with ever-evolving EPA and environmental state agency standards and Maximum Contaminant Levels has proven to be an overwhelming challenge. Wilcox & Barton, Inc. employees have found great personal satisfaction by stepping in to help towns and municipalities navigate the complex process.

“Towns all over New England need assistance, because the regulations are brand new,” says Wilcox & Barton, Inc. Senior Vice President, David Foss. “Very few towns have the technical resources in-house to help manage a project like this. Massachusetts state law requires that they hire an LSP to do paperwork, but we can also help them do what’s right in terms of testing and communicating with residents.” Foss serves as a liaison among the town officials, community members, and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) regulators. “One of the things I most enjoy about my job is helping to explain complex science to an audience with wide ranging backgrounds. I feel like a translator, and it’s really rewarding when people understand the challenges we’re facing.”

In Massachusetts, anyone with a public water supply (e.g., serves more than 25 people) must test for PFAS, including schools, restaurants, and many businesses. When one small Massachusetts town detected elevated concentrations of PFAS in its school water supply, the town worked with the MassDEP to investigate potential sources of contamination. They determined that the town may be responsible and called on Wilcox & Barton, Inc. to help the town take the next steps.

Some of the key services Wilcox & Barton, Inc. is providing the town to address public health and regulatory compliance issues include:

  • Communication and coordination with town officials and affected residents;
  • Testing and evaluation of private drinking water wells at more than 150 properties;
  • Reviewing laboratory data and managing the data quality control;
  • Mapping the sampling program results to define the contaminated area;
  • Providing clean bottled water at properties with detections of PFAS;
  • Designing and installing treatment systems at the properties with the highest levels of PFAS contamination;
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of treatment systems;
  • Coordinating with MassDEP regulators and submitting reports.

Project Engineer Meghan Toft has been invigorated by the PFAS work she is doing with the community. “Regulations don’t mean much to a lot of people,” says Toft, “but when it comes to their drinking water, people care a lot. Fear is an understandable emotion when finding out your drinking water might be contaminated. Being able to work toward the goal of providing clean drinking water is extremely rewarding. It feels good to be able to say, ‘We are here to help.’”

Meghan interacts day-to-day with homeowners. “My satisfaction comes from listening to people’s concerns, helping those who are having an emotional response, and reassuring them that we’re going to do what’s right in terms of science and reason. We want to be factual without overwhelming them with technical language. We help people understand the best science and the real risks. Based on what we currently know about PFAS, the biggest risk is in consumption (drinking).”

Because the regulatory regime is in a state of flux, the US EPA and state regulatory agencies may change the standards or add to the list of compounds requiring testing. Wilcox & Barton, Inc. suggests that communities recognize that this is a long-term problem and that the best path to safe drinking water is to test and mitigate in an incremental, step-by-step, basis. There is no “quick fix.” We are glad to work with municipalities and the state agencies to ensure that people have safe drinking water.

Meghan Toft and David Foss (pre-Covid)