The Martha’s Vineyard Airport is providing bottled water for some West Tisbury residents as a precaution after hazardous chemicals were detected in groundwater at and around the airport earlier this week.

Results from water sampling performed by Tetra Tech, an engineering services company hired by the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, show that a private well located at 12 Waldron’s Bottom Road in West Tisbury exceeds Massachusetts safe drinking water guidelines of 70 parts per trillion for toxic Per and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances. Three other private drinking wells located south of the airport also showed concentrations of PFAS.

Residents of a wide swath of homes that lie south of the airport, including Waldron’s Bottom Road, Vineyard Meadow Farms Road, Charles Neck Road, Laurand Drive and Jackson Road were formally notified by letter yesterday that the chemicals pose a “potential imminent hazard to human health” if ingested.

“Please discontinue ingestion of water from the drinking water well at this time and use bottled water for consumption purposes,” the letter says in part.

The source of the chemical contamination is likely firefighting foam used at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, airport director Ann Richart said Friday in a press statement and by telephone.

There are no federal safe standards for PFAS, but in guidelines issued in June, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection website says exposure to elevated levels of the chemical can cause liver, kidney and immune system problems and could be unsafe for women who are pregnant.

Ms. Richart said the airport hired Tetra Tech this past spring to test the airport’s groundwater because of new research on health concerns associated with PFAS, a chemical in the FAA-mandated foam used for firefighting at the airport. After samples from monitoring wells installed in the business park showed PFAS concentrations above safe limits, additional sampling of private wells downgradient of the monitoring wells was required.

The DEP and West Tisbury health department have been notified.

“They’re basically in the direction of where the water is flowing,” said West Tisbury health agent Omar Johnson, referring to the residents south of the airport. “I would recommend that people err on the side of caution and drink bottled water until testing is completed.”

Ms. Richart the firefighting foam is tested every six months, as required by the FAA. She said airport managers have made changes in the testing procedures since they became aware of the matter last January.

“We used to spray out on a field but now we spray where it goes into a catch basin to collect it,” Ms. Richart said. “Every airport that serves airlines in the country is required to use this stuff. This isn’t just a Martha’s Vineyard issue, it’s an every airport issue.”

Ms. Richart said water testing remains ongoing and more residents could start receiving bottled water if additional samples show PFAS concentrations above safe levels in other locations.

All the actions at the moment are precautionary, Ms. Richart said.

“It’s not something where there is an immediate health risk,” she said.

The airport commission has scheduled a public briefing for Monday at 1 pm. at the airport firefighting and rescue building.

A copy of the letter that went to airport neighbors follows:

Dear Neighbor,

I write on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC) to inform you that the MVAC, through its consultant Tetra Tech, initiated a voluntary investigation to assess for the presence of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater at and around the Martha’s Vineyard Airport (MVY). PFAS includes compounds contained in the foam that has been required by FAA to fight aircraft fires. PFAS compounds are also commonly used in products including carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, cookware, and other materials that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. PFAS can enter the environment and impact groundwater from any of these and other sources through surface discharges or septic systems.

While federal and sate regulations do not currently require the MVAC to sample for PFAS in groundwater, and there are no federal or state drinking water standards established for PFAS the MVAC has chosen to be proactive and commenced this investigation based on guidance provided by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

The purpose of this investigation is to evaluate the possible impact to groundwaters as a result of the usage of firefighting foam for FAA-required firefighting and safety purposes at MVY. Give the very low laboratory detection limits (less than 2 parts per trillion) for PFAS, and the numerous sources from which PFAS can enter the environment, we anticipate that detectable concentrations of PFAS will be identified in most wells. The initial sampling results for three private water supply wells located just south of MVY, where the highest concentrations would likely exist, identified target PFAS compounds in wells at concentrations ranging from 45.5 to 544 parts per trillion (ppt). The 554 ppt detection in one well did necessitate reporting to MassDEP and warrants further investigation in the southerly (down gradient) direction, which has included sampling of additional wells on Nov. 27, 2018 and will continue with additional sampling over the next few weeks.

Pending our further investigation of PFAS in groundwater near MVY, and in an abundance of caution, the MVAC will provide bottled water for those homes where the detected concentrations of the five specific PFAS compounds are approaching or exceed the 70 ppt guideline value. Based on MassDEP’s recommendations in the attached fact sheet, you may also decide to consume bottled water while this investigation is occurring until the PFAS concentrations in the down gradient area are further understood. As discussed above, we will also continue to refine and adjust our investigation in the southerly direction and will contact you directly if we believe that sampling of your well water is recommended. If you would like to request to have your well sampled sooner or if you would like to have your name added to the email distribution list for updates on the investigation, please email MVAC’s environmental consultant , Ron Myrick, at with your home address and preferred email address.

Very truly yours,
Ann Richart