Falmouth Drinking Water Tests Indicate Normal Levels of Asbestos Fibers

FALMOUTH – The Town of Falmouth is reporting that recent tests of drinking water samples across town are well below the maximum contaminant level for asbestos fibers.

Samples taken earlier this month at all five fire stations and one from Fiddler’s Cove Marina detected 190,000 fibers per liter or less – far below the Environmental Protection Agency maximum of 7 million.

The tests were recommended by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection following a previous round of testing around town.

A test of a water hydrant on Waterside Drive had 21 million asbestos fibers per liter.

The DEP was concerned that the town tested hydrants and was a non-representative sample of what people would be drinking from a faucet.

Previous tests of samples at Long Pond, Crooked Pond, Mares Pond and hydrants on Bar Neck Road and Seacoast Shores Boulevard were all below below the maximum contaminant level.

The Seacoast Shores hydrant tested at 2.1 million fibers and the other locations were classified as “non-detect.”

The testing was conducted following public concerns due to the improper storage and removal of asbestos cement pipe off Pumping Station Road.

In November, Water Superintendent Stephen Rafferty took responsibility for violating state requirements for safely handling and storing the pipe.

Rafferty told selectmen that employees had been following state Department of Environmental Protection guidelines on cutting and removing the pipe, but not on the storage and disposal of the material.

The DEP has a guidance document in regards to asbestos pipe which was originally developed in 2015. That document was updated and reissued in July.

Thirty-eight percent of the town’s water piping is asbestos cement pipe, which was installed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Many of the town’s water main breaks are associated with a failure of a rubber gasket in the asbestos cement pipes collar-style joint gasket system.

Short segments of pipe and pipe collars removed during repairs had been stockpiled within fenced in locked cage located off Pumping Station Road.

The fenced cage is sited outside of Long Ponds watershed.

Rafferty told selectmen on January 13 that progress is being made to properly follow state guidelines.

He said a contractor, Banner Environmental, was scheduled to remove existing pipe and clean up the storage area beginning on January 15. The work was expected to last about three or four days.

“We have procured a 20-foot shipping container that was delivered on Monday January 6,” Rafferty said. “The container, before we can use it, has to be lined with polyethylene sheeting.”

After staff connects the lining material to the inside of the container it will be used to store future cut asbestos cement pipe.

“We anticipate doing a contract with Banner, or a similar licensed asbestos abatement firm to come by on a monthly basis and pick up whatever we have accumulated in the month and dispose of it,” Rafferty said.

All distribution staff in the water department have also completed an 8-hour OSHA training class, with the exception of one utility worker and two meter readers.

“The one utility worker who has not yet taken that class is scheduled to attend in February,” Rafferty said.

The meter readers do not work around asbestos pipe and Rafferty said there is no need for them to attend the training course.

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant grew up in Central Massachusetts and now lives in South Dennis on the Cape. He has been part of the news team in the CapeCod.com NewsCenter since the spring of 2014. He studied radio broadcasting at the University of Tennessee.

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