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State warns against eating fish from 5 Cape Cod ponds due to PFAS

Johns Pond in Mashpee
Johns Pond in Mashpee

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is warning against eating fish from five Cape Cod ponds due to contamination with PFAS chemicals.

The advisories apply to Johns Pond in Mashpee; Flax Pond (also known as Picture Lake) in Bourne; Jenkins and Grews Ponds in Falmouth; and Mashpee-Wakeby Pond in Mashpee and Sandwich.

Mashpee-Wakeby Pond — two connected basins considered one body of water — is very popular for fishing and has hosted bass tournaments, according to David Mason, health director for the town of Sandwich.

“It is recognized in the state as a good fishery, so [the advisories] will be concerning,” he said.

Stocked trout are exempt from the advisories; the state says they’re unlikely to be in the water long enough to become harmful to eat.

The state chose the ponds for testing because of their proximity to Joint Base Cape Cod, where the groundwater is contaminated with PFAS.

Mason said while the presence of PFAS is no surprise, it’s troubling that the levels exceed state standards.

“What is surprising is that the action level is 0.22 two parts per billion, and the fish that were identified ... exceeded that — were above that action level, actually,” he said. “That, I think, is surprising, disturbing.”

Specifics of the fish advisories vary by species and are stricter for children under 12 and women of child-bearing age.

The state tested fish in five ponds on Cape Cod and found the unacceptable PFAS levels in all five.

When asked if the results would prompt testing of fish in other ponds, the Department of Health said in an email that it is working with state, local, and federal partners “to prioritize additional testing of PFAS in surface water as well as fish at various locations across the state, including Cape Cod.”

DPH also tested surface water in 16 water bodies on or near Joint Base Cape Cod. None were found to be unsafe for swimming.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These manufactured chemicals are long-lasting in the environment and linked to adverse health effects, including developmental delays in children, cancer, and decreased fertility.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.