Local News

Report: A Mass. composting facility likely spread significant amounts of ‘forever chemicals’

“My entire way of life has been destroyed."

A sign for Mass Natural at Massachusetts Natural Fertilizer Co. David Abel/Globe Staff
Forever Chemicals

Over 200 properties near an organic composting facility in Westminster may have water contaminated with large amounts of so-called “forever chemicals,” toxic compounds that never entirely break down in the natural environment, according to a Boston Globe report.

State environmental officials say the per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds probably spread through ground water from Mass Natural’s 240-acre facility — the largest and first of its kind in Massachusetts, the newspaper reports.

The family-run business has taken in tens of thousands of tons of organic waste annually and, in turn, has sold the compost as loam, mulch, and potting soil for the past 30-plus years.


But testing of its water conducted in March revealed the highest amount of PFAS ever detected in a private well in the state, with almost 300 times the state limit for six of the chemicals, according to the Globe.

In the months since, state officials and an environmental consultant working with Mass Natural have scoped out at least 218 properties in the surrounding area that may have contaminated drinking water.

One of those properties is just across the street from the facility: the four-bedroom home of Sue and Tom Ryan.

The couple moved to the 3-acre lot nearly 10 years ago to live out a dream of raising chickens, keeping horses, and living off the food grown in their garden.

But over the years, their health has worsened. It wasn’t until this past spring that the couple learned their drinking water contained over 50 times the amount of PFAS that the state deems safe to drink.

“My entire way of life has been destroyed, everything I moved here for,” Sue Ryan, 63, told the Globe.

The couple has sworn off drinking their water and eating from their garden, which they grew with loam from Mass Natural.

“I’m severely traumatized by this,” said Ryan. “I believe the PFAS has compromised my immune system.”


According to the Globe, PFAS, even in extremely low amounts, have been connected to a host of health problems, including cancer and low infant birth weights.

“It’s very depressing,” said Diane Page, who owns Mass Natural with Bill Page.

She acknowledged to the newspaper the inherent irony of the business’s situation.

“I haven’t slept in about three months,” she said. “I get customers asking for the materials, and I can’t sell it to them. I feel terrible about that.”

The company received a “notice of responsibility” from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which requires the business to cover cleanup costs. The responsibility was also assigned to Otter Farm, which owns the land, and its parent company, Seaman Paper, a paper-products manufacturer based in Gardner.

Last month, the state ordered Mass Natural to stop selling most of its products and required the business to provide bottled water and to install water filtration systems at nearby residences with contaminated wells.

According to the Globe, the state is still investigating potential sources of the contaminates, though.

Some residents in the area speculated the PFAS are due to Seaman bringing tons of waste materials from its paper mills to Mass Natural, but Seaman said it has tested mill waste water and other byproducts and found no evidence of “high concentrations” of PFAS, the newspaper reports.


“We are confident that we are not the source of the PFAS chemicals, because of the types of paper products we manufacture,” Ken Winterhalter, Seaman’s CEO, said in a statement to the Globe. “PFAS chemicals are not used in the production of any product at [Seaman’s], nor is there any indication they have been used in the past.”

Still, the state is investigating waste from other paper mills and sludge from waste water treatment facilities as other possible sources.

“Every composter and recycler in the state should beware,” Bill Page told the Globe.

Until recently, Mass Natural was not testing for PFAS as state regulations do not require testing for PFAS.

“Everyone should be testing for PFAS,” Bill Page said.

He added: “What’s happened here absolutely gives us pause about continuing.”

Read the full Boston Globe report.


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