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BU Study Did NOT Find High Levels in the Drinking Water in spite of title: High Levels of Contaminants Found in Holliston Drinking Water

by Press Release
February 19, 2018

This study was released by the BU School of Public Health on February 2, 2018.

The title of this report by BU has been misunderstood. Contaminants were found in the raw water, not our drinking water, Except for naturally-occurring Manganese, the drinking water meets or exceeds the standards. "The researchers wrote that the findings suggest the area’s aquifer system is also vulnerable." The Water Department has tested for many of the other chemicals in the driniking water and found none. The wells referred to were private wells.

A new study led by School of Public Health researchers has found moderate to high levels of a number of chemical contaminants in the well water, soil water, and underground water in Holliston, Massachusetts.

To address community concerns of discolored drinking water in Holliston, the researchers profiled five different sites adjacent to residential areas for contaminant releases: the Waste Transfer Station, the Combustion Research Center, the Axton Cross, the Bird Property, and Lake Winthrop. Each site was chosen due to its previous link to diesel fuel spills, flame retardants, illegal landfills, or overloading of fertilizers.

Based on publicly available data and information from site assessments from the 1960s onward, the researchers concluded that it was “likely” multiple chemicals from these sites had entered the drinking water supply.  They found moderate to high levels of Mn, Hg, and solvents in well water, soil water, or groundwater in multiple locations between 1987 and 2013. The researchers wrote that the findings suggest the area’s aquifer system is also vulnerable.

The authors called for integrated approaches that involve affected communities in addressing environmental contaminants. They also highlighted the need for new water treatment technologies.

The study areas were the Waste Transfer Station (WTS; 123 Washington Street), the Combustion Research Center (CRC; 90 Brook Street), Axton Cross (AC; 1 Cross Street), the Bird Property (BP; 708 Prentice Street), and Lake Winthrop (LW).

Table 4 in the report listed contaminants identified:

Table 4. Contaminants of interest identified from site profiles and secondary data.
Chemical Class Contaminants of Interest
Metals (5) Cadmium, Chromium, Lead, Manganese, Mercury/Methylmercury
Chlorinated solvents (6) 1,2-Dichloroethylene (DCE), 1,2-Dichloroethane (DCA), Dichloromethane (DCM), Trichloroethylene (TCE), 1,1,1-Trichloroethane (TCA), Tetrachloroethylene (PERC)
Trihalomethanes (THMs) (3) Chloroform, Bromodichloromethane, Chlorodibromomethane
Flame retardants Polybrominatediphenylethers (PBDEs)
Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) Benzo-a-pyrene
Other combustion hydrocarbons 2-Methylnaphthalene, Benzene/Toluene/Ethylene/Xylene (BTEX)
Radionuclides Gross beta particles
PCBs PCB congener 1242
Dioxins 2,3,7,8-TCDD

The report concluded that Holliston's aquifers  have an overall rating of 0.88, indicating high vulnerability, and made several recommendations going forward relating to Environmental policy, regulation and practice, public health policy, regulation and practice, and environmental technology.

The report's conclusions are that the problems are complex but solvable:

Effective, integrated approaches to tackle real-world environmental health-risk complexity are rooted in vibrant multi-directional exchanges among researchers, affected communities, and policy makers. Such approaches are being encouraged by a growing number of agencies: the findings in Holliston have national and global significance for aquifer protection and human health.

Representative Carolyn Dykema emailed the following to HollistonReporter.com today:

"“The Department of Environmental Protection is in the best position to evaluate the contents of the article and my office has forwarded a copy to them for their review. It appears that the information has already been incorporated into previous water quality reports, but I’ve asked them to take another look out of an abundance of caution.”

DPW also responded to our inquiry:

"it has been forwarded to me. I have had discussions with Residents and Selectmen, It is a good opportunity for your reps to lobby the Senators to obtain EPA funding to clean up these sites currently in private ownership. There is always the risk for groundwater contamination. The report came to me from Jay Marsden via Rep Dykema's office".

Jeff Weise, former Water Commissioner, responded: " The the water related issues involving the Bird Property and Marshal St. Dump area are not new.  That's why the Town spent so much money trying to prohibit condo development on the Bird Property: why nearby residents on Marshall St. had to resort to bottled vs well water, why the plume near the dump has long been a concern and why the future of the Town Well off Washington Street is still very much at risk".

The complete study is available as published in  Water.


Supplementary Materials

The following are available online at www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/10/01/23/s1, which refers to [23].


We would like to thank Roberta F. White, Richard Clapp and Rob Goble for supporting the study and providing early input. Clark University’s Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise provided seed funding.

Author Contributions

B.C.H. initiated and co-wrote the manuscript; Y.O.-H. conducted GIS mapping and created figures; A.D., M.R., N.C. assisted with data collection and community exchanges; B.B., B.C., S.C., R.H., K.L., A.M., S.P., G.R., and K.S. assisted with data collection; M.S. co-led community listening sessions and helped secure seed funding; T.J.D. conceived and led the project and co-wrote the manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Comments (9)

Well, that settles it. Getting a whole house filter. We've got Rep. Dykema telling us to sit tight while the wheels of the bureaucracy turn (way to lead on the issue, Carolyn) and the head of the DPW appears to be praying for the EPA to declare this a real deal Superfund site. In the meantime, we just sit and wait? Also, who wrote this press release? Seems like it was done by the Holliston Report by itself.

- Jim Donnegal | 2/20/18 8:56 PM

The title of this article is misleading and postures they we don't have a water issue - when clearly we do. How are we spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a renovation of the rail trail bridge and yet we do not have clean water? The misinformation and paper shuffling must stop. I encourage people to attend the water rate hearing so we can get some answers. Allegations of potential PUBLIC well contaminants - both naturally occurring and not - is seriously concerning. We need to demand answers and get clearly validated information with proof that our water is safe to drink for everyone. It is not sufficient to say that the problem has been addressed and disclosed in previous water quality reports. We need a long term solution.

- Josh Perez | 2/20/18 8:03 PM

Once again I have rusty water in my toilet bowl,which happened 5-6 times last year -are we currently flushing hydrants ? - we've had water issues for a while now, it would seem that it's finally time to resolve the issues once and for all and to keep the residents fully advised

- Lee DeSorgher | 2/20/18 2:13 PM

I wish we were paying Wellesley taxes. Holliston's tax rate is about 50% higher than Wellesley's.

- Mark | 2/20/18 1:56 PM

This is completely unacceptable! We want answers, and we want them now. Why are we paying Wellesley taxes for Woonsocket services???

- Stan Coffin | 2/20/18 9:39 AM

Can install a whole house water filter system for just a couple hundred dollars. It's well worth it. replace filter about every 3 months for about $30 a filter.

- scott | 2/19/18 11:24 PM

When are we going to take the problems with Holliston Water supply seriously? Let us have a meeting at the High School with the authors of the study. "Based on the weight of evidence, a complete pathway to exposure for several chemicals of concern is likely in Holliston." What knowledgeable person/s are responsible for our water supply? The Selectman? - what background do they have in environmental toxicology, water quality, to monitor and manage our water supply? OUR WATER EFFECTS EVERYONE in Holliston's HEALTH. So Holliston DPW solution to our water problems is to solicit funding! Rep Dykema's solution is contact the DEP, we knew there were problems before so it is OK! Where is the local responsibility, where is the local action for OUR WATER? It sounds like pass the buck. Let us take this article for a call to action. Liz Theiler

- liz Theiler | 2/19/18 10:31 PM

This is so concerning that I think a tv station should get involved in this.. they get action quicker than our selectmen.... and you want to sell bricks to coffer the flower fund !!!!! That money should be used for CLEAN WATER... NOT FLOWERS

- FLOWERS??? | 2/19/18 2:46 PM

I think there should be an emergency meeting at the high school with the researchers at BU to answer our questions as to what we can do immediately & long term. Unfortunately the long term solutions could be years away. A number of years ago Liz Theiler was on the BOH & had concerns about the quality of Holliston's water but her concerns were dismissed even though there was a study that the cancer rate in Holliston was elevated. We need clear answers once & for all. No minimizing people's concerns going forward. Are we buying bottled water? Is it better than what we have? We have been told in the past town drinking water is tested but you don't know about bottled. Does a whole house filtration system remove it all or just some? Can we shower? Does heating the water to drink minimize the absorption of the chemicals in the body? The questions go on & need answering. We need a place to get answers rather than Facebook. What is the plan short & long term?

- Deb Moore | 2/19/18 2:38 PM



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