north attleboro town hall building

North Attleboro Town Hall

NORTH ATTLEBORO — The bill for cleaning a class of chemicals from the town’s drinking water supply is growing, but officials say they are working to ensure the whole burden does not fall on ratepayers.

At their regular meeting last week, the town council authorized borrowing $5.2 million for facilities to remove PFAS chemicals that testing recently showed were over state limits.

However, Mark Hollowell, director of public works, said there will probably be other similar projects for as many as three more of the town’s wells. The total costs may be $15 million to $20 million, he warned, but said, “We’ll be shaking the trees to get any federal funding.”

Town Manager Michael Borg said, “We are aggressively pursuing other sources of revenue.”

And earlier in the meeting, U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss told councilors that federal funds already in the pipeline could be used for the project.

Hollowell said the impact on water department customers would be spread out over the years but could mean a 20% increase in water rates over five years. He said all the towns wells could be back on line by 2023.

Hollowell also said the town is in the process of setting up a facility to provide treated water to people likely to be at higher risk from the chemicals. More information on that and an abatement program that will allow people in those groups to obtain bottled water is on the town’s website.

The Biden administration on Monday announced its plans to regulate the toxic industrial compounds, which are associated with serious health conditions and are used in products ranging from cookware to carpets and firefighting foams.

Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency is taking a series of actions to limit pollution from the cluster of long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS that are increasingly turning up in public drinking water systems, private wells and even food.

Under the strategy announced Monday, the EPA will move to set aggressive drinking water limits for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act and will require PFAS manufacturers to report on how toxic their products are. The agency also will designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the so-called Superfund law that allows the EPA to force companies responsible for the contamination to pay for the cleanup work or do it themselves.

North Attleboro is one of several area communities where tests have shown certain PFAS chemicals above the 20 parts per trillion that the state Department of Environmental Protection has set as a limit. Locally, Foxboro, Attleboro and Mansfield have seen test results showing the presence of the chemicals. Some 80 communities in the state have similar issues.

Tom Reilly can be reached at 508-236-0332 or treilly@thesunchronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tomreillynews

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