Barnstable is the Cape’s hub of transportation, commerce, and tourism, with a year-round population of just under 50,000 that swells to 150,000 in the summer. And in May, just before vacation season kicked into high gear, town officials said there was something wrong with the drinking water.
The previous week, the US Environmental Protection Agency had dramatically lowered its advisory levels for two chemical compounds — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), once found in things like nonstick coatings and stain-resistant clothes, and still used in some industrial applications such as flame retardants — instantly putting water from the Hyannis Water System, one of three feeding into Barnstable , over the limit. Town officials recommended that pregnant women and nursing mothers in Hyannis not drink or cook with municipal water, nor should babies drink it, they said, noting that exposure to elevated levels of PFOA and PFOS might cause developmental problems. Daniel Santos, the Barnstable director of public works, describes the water supply as “under siege.”