UMass Amherst Partners with MassDEP to Undertake Testing for PFAs in Private Wells and Public Water Supplies

Professor David Reckhow’s team coordinating water tests in public water and selected private wells in 84 Massachusetts communities
David Reckhow
David Reckhow

AMHERST, Mass. – The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) recently awarded a state grant for $1,072,791 to professor David Reckhow’s group in civil and environmental engineering to facilitate sampling of public water supplies to test if the water is contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and to test selected private water wells in 84 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns to characterize the levels of PFAS in the Commonwealth.

The UMass Amherst team includes professor John Tobiason (Co-PI) plus 11 other professionals, six graduate students and 24 undergraduate students. There is also a smaller group from UMass Lowell assisting in this statewide effort.

Reckhow’s team is arranging for the collection and analysis of samples from as many as 1,600 public water systems and 3,500 private water wells in the 84 designated communities. Laboratory analysis of each sample is providing valuable data on the concentration of 18 commonly measured PFAS species, especially the six specific substances that make up the regulated PFAS group. MassDEP recently published its PFAS public drinking water standard of 20 nanograms per liter (ng/L) – individually or for the sum of the concentrations of the six targeted PFAS. This standard was set to be protective against adverse health effects for all people consuming the water.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industrial applications around the world, including in the U.S., since the 1940s. The chemicals are found in a variety of products, they don’t break down and can easily accumulate in humans over time. There is scientific evidence that exposure to PFAS can have adverse health effects in humans.

Residents of Massachusetts receive their drinking water from approximately 1,624 public water systems and from private wells, with more than 500,000 residents served by private wells. The program Reckhow’s group is overseeing is designed to characterize PFAS levels across the Commonwealth and especially in towns that are not predominantly served by a public water system.

Working with MassDEP, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, local boards of health and other local partners, Reckhow’s group is identifying private wells in each of the 84 towns for PFAS analysis based on geographic distribution within the town and/or proximity to potential sources for PFAS. Well owners are being contacted and offered the opportunity to sign up for free PFAS sampling. Approximately 40 wells will then be selected in each town for PFAS drinking water lab analysis. All sampling is expected to be completed by June 30.

More information on the project, including a list of communities being targeted by the project, can be found on the MassDEP website. Also, a direct link to MassDEP’s PFAS Story Map can be found at Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) | Mass.gov.