Cleanup of PFAS chemicals in drinking water underway in wells near Fort Devens

AYER, Mass. — The U.S. Army has committed to cleaning up PFAS chemicals in drinking water in wells near Fort Devens.

An environmental group says it all started when a whistleblower sent them documents showing how serious the contamination was.

The drinking water in Ayer is already being treated for iron and manganese.  Pretty soon they'll be getting a $4.5 million dollar filtration system to filter out the emerging contaminant known as PFAS.   A big price tag for a small town.

"We were contacted by the mass dep and they strongly advised us to turn off that well" says Mark Wetzel, Ayer department of public works superintendent.

That's because one of their wells, well number eight,  was testing above the recommended state level for PFAS of 70 parts per trillion. Wetzel says that well number eight is the closest to Fort Devens.

"I think the primary contamination is from firefighting foam" says Kyla Bennett, the New England director of PEER, an environmental non-profit that supports public employees.

Ayer is one of seven communities around Massachusetts that has elevated levels of the dangerous contaminants in their drinking water because of the use of fluorinated firefighting used at military bases and airports.

Bennett says peer received an anonymous tip from a whistleblower about the PFAS contamination in Ayer.

"They actually sent us a document and flagged it for us and said there's a problem in Ayer that's being swept under the rug and we need you to take a look at this and out it." says Bennett.

Peer found the town was fighting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get the army to help pay for the cleanup.  Just last week, Bennett says they received a statement from the EPA saying the pentagon and the army will help clean the water in Ayer.

"it's great for Ayer , but there are a lot of other systems in Massachusetts and around the country that need the same treatment" says Bennett.

The town of Ayer says its drinking water is currently safe and is well below the state recommended level for PFAS.

Consumer information for buying water filters can be found here.