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Cape Cod residents call for 'forever chemicals' PFAS cleanups to work together

An aerial shot of one of the caps installed at the Hyannis airport to stop the further spread of the 'forever chemicals' PFAS.
Courtesy Cape Cod Gateway Airport
An aerial shot of one of the caps installed at the Hyannis airport to stop the further spread of the 'forever chemicals' PFAS.

Hyannis residents are calling for the teams of two PFAS cleanups to keep working together.

Local cleanups are happening at Cape Cod Gateway Airport and Barnstable County’s former fire training academy.

The airport’s cleanup is entering its final stages while the County’s cleanup is still in the early rounds.

Hyannis resident and President of the Greater Hyannis Civic Association Betsy Young spoke at a public meeting the airport hosted last month.

Young said she got her personal results from a study looking at the health effects of PFAS.

“I just got my results back and they’re not good - from the blood tests… But more and more residents are going to be getting their results back and they’re going to be looking for answers. There’s a responsibility out there to give answers to them.”

Increased exposure to PFAS has been linked with a higher risk of some cancers.

Young said she hoped the airport could help the County speed up its PFAS cleanup.

The airport said it’s been sharing data with the County’s cleanup team and giving them access to monitoring wells. Officials from both teams also attended a joint meeting to share information hosted by MassDEP.

Barnstable Town Councilor Betty Ludtke had pushed for the two cleanup projects to coordinate their efforts at a public forum back in August.

The County is holding its next public PFAS cleanup update on January 30.

Past fire training activities at the airport and the fire training academy led to PFAS contaminating groundwater in Hyannis.

At the recent PFAS meeting the airport held, the facility's cleanup team shared data showing the airport’s PFAS plume did not spread to nearby drinking water wells until 2020. Hyannis drinking water has been treated for PFAS since 2016.

The airport has put caps over the source areas and redirected water flow, which stops the further spreading of PFAS.

But Chair of the Cape Cod & Islands group of The Sierra Club Chris Powicki asked what would happen to the contaminated soil that’s still in the ground.

Bryan Massa is with the airport cleanup team and said it would be staying put.

“It would still be there until it became feasible to remove or technology changes or something like that happens,” Massa said.

Last year, state and federal regulators described a Joint Base Cape Cod cleanup plan that involved leaving PFAS-contaminated soil in the ground as “incomplete.”

People can submit comments on the airport’s latest cleanup report until January 19. Head to its site for more details.

The airport has also been hosting meetings on the environmental review of a $22 million plan to extend one of its runways.

Some residents who live closeby voiced frustration at a separate public meeting the Airport also held in December.

They said the project will add to the noise that’s already coming from the facility.

Yarmouth Town Administrator Bob Whritenour asked why flight procedures – like reduced-thrust takeoffs that could mitigate noise – weren’t included in a recent environmental report on the project.

Cheryl Quaine with the Federal Aviation Administration said the procedures could help.

“It is a process that the airport can initiated through the FAA. They take a look at it, try and make sure that it’s a safe operation, that it’s not conflicting with other flight paths in the area, and it’s a process that can be initiated.“

An airport consultant said their analysis of the runway expansion showed noise levels would stay within federal guidelines.

Manager Katie Servis also addressed concerns about private jet use, saying a usual day at the airport sees many types of flights.

“You would see MedFlight, you would see employees transitioning to and from work to the Islands, you would see a mail plane that brings vital mail to and from the Islands, you would see military aircraft operating at the airport, you would see students learning how to fly.”

Public comments on an environmental report of the runway project can be made through February 9.

Brian Engles is an author, a Cape Cod local, and a producer for Morning Edition.