Town officials face calls for more action.
FALMOUTH — Members of the Board of Selectmen on Monday said they will wait for the results of a second round of water samples before taking any further action on a previous sample from a fire hydrant that tested above the legal limit for asbestos.
After asbestos pipes were found in October to be improperly stored outside the Long Pond Pumping Station, water officials collected samples throughout the town, including pond sites and fire hydrants, to make sure the improper storage did not affect the water system. The Water Department has also procured a 20-foot shipping container that will be lined with polyethylene sheeting to store asbestos pipe, which a contractor will remove on a monthly basis, Water Superintendent Steve Rafferty said.
Rafferty said “there’s no indication that the way we stored our pipes has caused an increased level of concern in that waterline.”
The sample results, which came back Jan. 6, concluded that none of the ponds sampled contained levels of asbestos exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level of 7 million fibers per liter.
One fire hydrant in the Wild Harbor area, however, was found to exceed that limit at 21 million fibers per liter. But the state Department of Environmental Protection said that samples taken from fire hydrants are invalid, as they are not representative of what people drink from a faucet, Rafferty said.
On the recommendation of the state DEP, the Water Department took a second round of samples at different fire stations. Rafferty said the second samples more accurately reflected the quality of water residents get from their taps at home, as well as the speed at which it passes through their faucets.
Rafferty expects to get the results of the most recent samples in two weeks. The selectmen decided it would wait to take further action until the results come back. The public will be notified of the results, members said.
Some attendees at Monday’s meeting were not satisfied with that approach.
Falmouth resident Michael Heylin recommended that the town pay for anyone in Wild Harbor who wants their faucets tested for asbestos. He also said the results of the first samples should be sent to every resident.
“People need to know,” Heylin said. “Thirty thousand people in this town, and you’re going to sit here and wait an additional month to tell them? That’s criminal.”
Resident Marc Finneran said the town should conduct directional flushing on its fire hydrants once a year. He said it hasn’t been done in Falmouth since 2013.
“When will a complete directional flush be done?” Finneran asked. “I submit to you that had it been done, we wouldn’t have gotten this bad sample.”
Rafferty said while the entire system hasn’t been flushed, the Water Department has been flushing hydrants in the spring and fall.
“We have been conducting a directional flushing program,” he said.
Rafferty said the town is working to flush all of the hydrants. So far, he said, hydrants in the southern peninsulas, Sippewissett and North Falmouth have been flushed.
Rafferty also explained that ingesting asbestos is not nearly as dangerous as inhaling it. He cited a study conducted on rats that showed that if one were to drink a liter of water with the level of asbestos found in the water samples for 70 years, there would be a one in a million chance of getting cancer.
Mason Miranda, a health writer for mesothelioma.com, is an outreach and medical specialist who specializes in asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that is caused by long-term asbestos exposure.
Although ingesting asbestos is not as dangerous as inhaling it, Miranda said people are still at risk of abdominal mesothelioma, also known as peritoneal mesothelioma.
“Ingesting one liter isn’t going to do a ton of damage, but there’s still a chance of you developing cancer,” he said.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level of asbestos is 7 million fibers per liter, drinking water with a nondetectable level of asbestos can still put people at risk long term, Miranda said.
“Any kind of exposure to asbestos, whether it’s below or above the 7 million fiber limit, is still dangerous, ” Miranda said, “and people can still develop that kind of mesothelioma, or any kind of mesothelioma.”
Miranda said there have been cases in Texas and California in which residents grew concerned about the level of asbestos in their drinking water.
Residents in Devine, Texas, received a letter of warning in 2016 about high levels of asbestos in their drinking water. The samples taken came back at 14, 17 and 18 million fibers per liter.
After an asbestos pipe burst in New York City’s Flatiron District in 2018, causing many residents to be displaced, people grew concerned with the long-term effects of asbestos and whether asbestos levels increased in their drinking water, Miranda said.
At Monday’s meeting, a resident asked whether Falmouth’s numerous water main breaks could increase the level of asbestos in the water. Rafferty said he thinks the pipes that broke were cast iron, not the asbestos pipes.
“If it was an asbestos pipe breaking, any kind of break would release fibers into the water, period,” he said.
Miranda said there are some steps residents can take to reduce their exposure to asbestos in drinking water. Any kind of water filter will help, he said. He suggested that residents uses water filters even if the new samples come back normal.
“It’s just healthier,” Miranda said.
Follow Jessica Hill on Twitter: @jess_hillyeah.