Drs. Vandiver, Kay, and Engelward tour the Passamaquoddy Water District Treatment Facility

MIT / Passamaquoddy Tribe Engagement

MIT / Passamaquoddy Tribe Engagement

MIT / Passamaquoddy Tribe Engagement

By Bevin P. Engelward
MIT SRP Program Director
Jul 08, 2021

On August 2, 2019, a team from MIT SRP visited stakeholders in Maine, including A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers in Waterville, ME, the group that oversees the drinking water treatment facility for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point. The district is known as the Passamaquoddy Water District (PWD) and facility’s water source, Boyden Lake, has been known for years to be very challenging. The lake is small and shallow with a several residential homes on it and the treatment facility draws it water from a small impoundment area located downstream from the lake.

Drs. Kay, Engelward, and Vandiver meet with A.E. Hodsdon Engineers. From left, Mark McClusky, Jenny Kay, Bevin Engelward, Kathy Vandiver, and Al Hodsdon.

Drs. Jennifer Kay, Kathy Vandiver, and Bevin Engelward met with engineer Mark McCluskey and company president Al Hodsdon, who provided a technical overview of challenges that PWD faces in maintaining the standards for this public water supply. The facility is supervised by Hodsdon’s because the district doesn’t have a licensed operator. Seasonal changes and weather-related events produce high levels of organic material, discoloring the drinking water and raising the tribe’s concern about water purity and safety. Additionally, the PWD’s published water quality tests have exceeded the state standards for trihalomethanes (THMs) from time to time, triggering public notices that last for three months and increasing fears about water quality. THMs are commonly formed in water containing organic material that is treated with high levels of chlorination to overcome microbial risk. At our Hodsdon meeting, the MIT team pointed out that conditions that produce THMs also produce of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), one of MIT’s contaminants of concern. Our discussion with the Hodsdon engineers led the MIT team to conclude that a follow-up trip to Maine with the goal of testing for NDMA at several locations in the PWD district would be supported and welcomed.

Drs. Vandiver, Kay, and Engelward tour the Passamaquoddy Water District Treatment FacilityIn addition to visiting the engineers in Waterville, the MIT SRP team also met with the newly elected Vice Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, Maggie Dana. At this meeting, Drs. Jennifer Kay, Kathy Vandiver, Bevin Engelward, and John Essigmann met with Brownfields Coordinator Dale Mitchell and members of the Sipayik Environmental Department, including Director Marvin Cling, Water Quality Manager Billy Longfellow, and Ecology Coordinator Chris Johnson. Overall, tribal members are still quite concerned about ongoing issues with the municipal PWD water supply, in particular the frequent water discoloration and PWD notices of THMs exceedances. The Passamaquoddy expressed a continuing interest in collaborations with MIT scientists in water quality studies.

The MIT SRP is well-positioned to assist with water quality testing as members of the MIT team have previously partnered with Sipayik Environmental Dept. members (named above) in a citizen science project testing for metals, including lead and arsenic in PWD water and well water used by the Passamaquoddy tribe. This successful research collaboration between MIT and the Passamaquoddy Environmental Dept. was both a capacity-building and trust-building experience. Tribal households received back their individual results for lead and arsenic levels in their drinking water with recommendations for how to reduce their exposures. This study laid the groundwork for a future partnership with our Passamaquoddy colleagues to address additional water quality concerns such as NDMA.

MIT SRP team concluded the tribal visit with a separate meeting with Passamaquoddy Brownfields Coordinator Dale Mitchell to learn more about the Meddybemps Superfund site. This site harbors a wealth of native artifacts dating back more than 8,000 years. The site is located on Meddybemps Lake, a major native trading route and an important Passamaquoddy ancestral home.  Today’s tribal elders have named this place “Ntolonapemk” — “My Relatives’ Place.” The tribe feels a great spiritual connection to this place and to their tribal ancestors and they are hoping to acquire this land in the near future. The MIT team expressed an interest in supporting the Passamaquoddy with regard to the assessment of the environmental health risks associated with the Meddybemps Superfund site.