Joint Message from Nantucket Airport Commission, Board of Health and Select Board - (July 29, 2020)


What Are PFAS Chemicals? 

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are a group of manmade chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1950s. They are referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ – they are persistent in our bodies, mobile in the environment and many will not naturally degrade. PFAS chemicals are most often commercially used to create grease, water and stain resistant barriers for materials, including Teflon, grease-resistant take out containers, and upholstery and carpet treatments; these chemicals are also found in firefighting foam.  

PFAS compounds can be found in:

  • Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
  • Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
  • Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery) that use PFAS.
  • Drinking water, typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility).
  • Living organisms, including fish, animals and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time.

Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase outs including the PFOA Stewardship Program in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics. 

Why Now? 

Concerns have been raised regarding human health and ecological risks associated with certain PFAS chemicals.  The Town of Nantucket is following the guidance and testing requirements of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) as it pertains to PFAS.   

On October 2, 2020, MassDEP published final regulations establishing a drinking water standard, or a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), for the sum of six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The MCL is 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for what the regulations call PFAS6, or the sum of six PFAS compounds: perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA).  

Additional MassDEP regulations for testing of PFAS in the environment are likely in the future as scientific studies are conducted and the understanding of these chemicals increases.  The Town of Nantucket has been and will perform all testing as required by MassDEP.   The Town may also perform testing as recommended by our professional and licensed consultants to address specific situations.  

The Town of Nantucket, Nantucket Memorial Airport and Wannacomet Water Company along with MassDEP are working together to coordinate PFAS related activities.   Updated information regarding PFAS related activities and projects is provided below.  

What Is Happening?

Nantucket Memorial Airport: The Airport is responding to concerns about PFAS in drinking water wells adjacent to Airport property.  Under the direction of MassDEP and following an approved Immediate Response Action (IRA) Plan, the Airport and Airport Commission are taking the necessary actions to meet all regulatory requirements.  Information specific to this project can be found here.The Airport’s information portal on PFAS and water quality can be found here.

Wannacomet Water Company: The Wannacomet Water Company reports as of October 27, 2020:

  • On September 1, 2020  Wannacomet sampled all 5 wells for PFAS Compounds.  Three wells had no PFAS Compounds detected.
  • One PFAS Compound was detected in two of the wells at levels lower than the MADEP Drinking Water Standards
  • It is suspected that the low level of PFAS detected in Well 13 and Well 15 in the September 1, 2020 samples was from pipe dope and Teflon tape used on the plumbing fittings on the sample tap.
  • No Safe Drinking Water Standards were exceeded and Wannacomet will collect confirmatory PFAS Compound samples from those two wells in late September 2020.  Results of the confirmatory samples will be posted.
  • On September 22 WWCO made a new sample tap in the well 13 pump station.  No pipe dope or Teflon tape was used. 
  • On September 23 WWCO collected confirmatory samples from well 13 and well 15.  Confirmatory results show that No PFAS was detected in well 13 and PFAS was detected below the MADEP standard in well 15.  WWCO plans on making a new sample tap on well 15 without using pipe dope and Teflon tape and sample again. 
  • Testing results are as follows:

    Date                  Location        PFAS(ppt)           

    9/1/20              Well 13             7.48

    9/23/20            Well 13             Non-Detected from new sample tap

    9/1/20               Well 15             2.54

    9/23/20             Well 15             2.41    

    New sample taps will be installed and more sample will be collected.

  • The MassDEP has not required that PFAS sampling be completed by any public water supplies yet.  Wannacomet expects the MassDEP will be coming out with that soon and will be adding PFAS to its sampling schedule.  Currently, Wannacomet goes above and beyond and collects more samples than are required by MassDEP.
  • Wannacomet is required by law and MassDEP to collect samples as outlined in our MassDEP Sampling Schedule. 
  • The sampling schedule is based on quarterly sampling of hundreds of constituents including, heavy metals, VOC’s, SOC’s, inorganics, radon and others.
  • Members of our staff including the Director have taken sampling procedure classes offered by New England Water Work and have completed on-line training for PFAS sampling.
  • Wannacomet’s sampling budget is 65K to 75K a year. 

Town of Nantucket Departments including the Sewer Dept. and DPW: The Town has hired CDM Smith, an environmental consultant, and is developing an initial risk assessment of potential sources contributing to PFAS contamination. The CDM Smith team brings the experience of a large engineering consulting firm with a team of recognized PFAS experts and local staff to assist in this evaluation. The PFAS evaluation and the information gathered will help identify the steps and future actions needed to meet regulatory requirements and guidelines. This initial assessment is planned to be complete in mid-November.  

Surfside and Sconset Waste Water Treatment Facilities: The Nantucket Sewer Department reports as of October 27, 2020:

  • There are currently no MassDEP mandated PFAS testing requirements.
  • The Sewer Department is anticipating MassDEP requirements and has been preapring estimates and testing strategies.
  • The Sewer Department completes all MassDEP required permit testing as required daily, weekly and monthly. Sewer Department staff perform many of these tests in house but send a many samples to a certified Lab in Rhode Island.  Current testing includes:
    • Daily PH influent and Effluent both plants (required MassDEP permit testing) 
    • Daily Temps (required MassDEP permit testing)  
    • Daily Nitrate, Nitrite, Nitrogen and Ammonia at both plants (required MassDEP permit testing) 
    • Daily MLSS Mixed Liquor testing for Process control. Basically how many bugs and how much food in the system.
    •  Weekly BOD-5 Biochemical Oxygen Demand testing both plants for MassDEP and Process control
    • Weekly BOD-5 Biochemical Oxygen Demand testing both plants (required MassDEP permit testing) 
    • Weekly Sludge, Filtrate and Sludge Cake in house this is used for process control.
    •  Weekly Oils and Grease for both Plants (required MassDEP permit testing) 
    • Weekly TSS total suspended solids both influent and effluent (required MassDEP permit testing) 
    • Weekly Ammonia influent (required MassDEP permit testing) 
    • Monthly Leachate and Brew Waste sent off to state lab
    • Every other week Sun-Mon for COVID-19 Testing with BioBot.
    • Monthly testing for PH, Water Levels and salinity for all 9 sampling wells at Surfside.
  • The Sewer Department also has an extensive monthly, quarterly and annually testing set (required MassDEP permit testing)  for Volatile Organic Compounds of wells, Effluents etc. for both plants.
  • The Sewer Department assists other Departments to include NR sampling as needed such as sampling for types of paint or other chemical around the island. 

Nantucket Solid Waste Facility (Landfill): Town of Nantucket’s vendor Waste Options Nantucket (WON) under a co-permit with Town is required by MasssDEP to take actions regarding PFAS starting this fiscal year.  The actions include:

  • Selection of a testing lab qualified/certified to test PFAS.
  • Begin quarterly sampling and testing for PFAS of our final compost product.
  • WON sampled the final compost product on 10-28-2020 for the first time under our new Approval of Suitability (AOS) permit agreement with DEP.  Results are pending and will be shared with MassDEP.

At this time, no standard currently exists for PFAS levels in final compost material.  MassDEP indicated that they will be tracking the accumulated PFAS data from final compost across the Commonwealth with the idea that they will set a PFAS standard for this type of material in the future.

Additional Information

How a sample is collected for PFAS testing

MassDEP explains the complexity and sensitivity of sample collections for PFAS testing in this video.

Selected PFAS Resources    

Contact Us

  1. If you have questions about PFAS testing, please send an email to