Judy Poulin, 77, stands Monday near fields where she says sludge was spread that led to the contamination of the well that provides drinking water for her home at 403 Ohio Hill Road in Fairfield. Poulin has lived at the home since 2003. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

As the state continues testing farmland in Fairfield for high levels of so-called  “forever chemicals,” a second resident has been forced to adapt to not using her well water due to the discovery of the same chemicals on her property.

A test conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry found that milk from Tozier Dairy Farm, located at 62 Ohio Hill Road, had levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, also known as PFOS, that were higher than the limit of 210 parts per trillion set by the state.

In September, the Department of Environmental Protection conducted a test of the well water on the property of Jerri-Lee Cookson, 65, who lives less than one mile from two fields owned by the Toziers.

Officials discovered that Cookson’s water contained such high levels of PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, that she was advised to stop consuming it.

Cookson’s neighbor Judy Poulin, who lives at 403 Ohio Hill Road, had even higher levels of these chemicals in her water and was also told to stop using it.

My right to clean water has been taken away from me and I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Poulin said. “I’m not a happy camper. I’m very upset …”

Since the beginning of October, Poulin has been hauling five-gallon containers of freshwater into her home to drink and cook with.

“I’m buying these big five-gallon containers of water and I have a pump on top of it, so that’s what I have for drinking water and cooking water,” Poulin said. “I should not have to do that. Those things are heavy. I have to wait for somebody to come to bring them in the house for me.” 

ADVERSE EFFECTS OF FOREVER CHEMICALS

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the group of man-made “forever chemicals” known collectively as PFAS, have a limit of 70 parts per trillion in drinking water, set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. PFOS and PFOA are two synthetic chemicals that are referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short.

According to the DEP’s results dated Oct. 9, Poulin’s water contained levels of PFOA at 784 parts per trillion and PFOS at an estimated 2,880 parts per trillion.

Cookson’s water had levels of PFOA at 394 parts per trillion and PFOS at 170 parts per trillion.

PFAS were developed in the 1940s and became widely popular for household use because of the chemicals’ abilities to resist water, stains and grease. These chemicals were used in products such as carpeting, fabric, clothing, food packaging, pots and pans as well as in firefighting foams used on military bases, airports and firefighting training facilities.

The chemicals have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because their bond is so strong, they don’t easily break down in the environment or in the body.

Judy Poulin, 77, carries one of three 5-gallon water containers she uses to carry water for drinking and cooking. Her well at 403 Ohio Hill Road in Fairfield was discovered to be contaminated. She has lived at the home since 2003. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

According to a fact sheet from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, almost everyone has some level of these chemicals in their bodies.

Studies of these chemicals have shown that exposure can cause health issues such as elevated cholesterol, thyroid disease, damage to the liver and kidneys, adverse effects on fertility and low birth weight.

Other studies have shown links between PFAS and the elevated risk of certain cancers.

“I’ve been drinking it since I lived here. I’ve lived here for 15, 20 years,” Poulin said. “I’ve been using it, cooking with it, giving it to the dogs and cats … and they (the state) don’t have any answers. I don’t know if they really know what’s going to happen. But I want to know, how has this affected me, health-wise?”

David Madore, acting deputy commissioner for the DEP, said that the department has advised people with health-related questions to consult the Center for Disease Control. 

Poulin is also concerned about how the contamination will impact her property value.

“Right now my property is worth zero,” Poulin said.

CONTAMINATION THROUGH SPREADING SLUDGE

The contamination at the Tozier Dairy Farm is believed to have come from the use of sludge, which is treated wastewater solids that can be spread on soil instead of using fertilizer. According to state officials, the use of sludge is an approved method in Maine and other states and can have organic benefits.

DEP confirmed that the two fields near Cookson’s and Poulin’s houses were tested for PFAS.

Based on a review of records available, we believe that lime-stabilized wastewater treatment sludge from Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District (KSTD) was last applied on portions of Parcel 27 in 2003,” Madore said in an email Friday. “And lime-stabilized wastewater treatment plant sludge and dewatered septage processed at Soil Preparation, Inc. (N-Viro Soil) was last applied on portions of Parcel 27 in 2015.”

Madore said that there were no records indicating that sludge from the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District had been spread on the other field, labeled 26A on the town’s map, but that it is “likely that N-Viro Soil was applied on portions of that parcel.”

N-Viro Soil is another product made from sewage sludge that is used as fertilizer.

The land application of sludge was first licensed by DEP as early as 1978, according to Madore.

Madore said that records indicate that the Tozier Dairy Farm began the application of sludge from Kennebec Sanitary around 1980, and it was last applied in 2003. The application of sludge and dewatered septage from Soil Preparation Inc. of Plymouth began around 2006 and last occurred in 2015.

Judy Poulin, 77, near the well that was discovered to be contaminated by sludge spread in fields next to her home at 403 Ohio Hill Road in Fairfield. The well is marked with an antique seeder shown in the center. Poulin has lived at the home since 2003. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Since the investigation is ongoing, state officials have not confirmed whether the contamination at the Tozier Farm is directly linked to the contamination of Cookson’s and Poulin’s wells.

“Why can’t they just use fertilizer?” Poulin said. “They (DEP) are supposed to be protecting the environment, not letting people destroy it.”

Contaminated milk from the Tozier Farm was discovered during the department’s second round of retail milk testing in February, according to Nancy McBrady, director of the Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources Bureau.

Milk with PFOS levels of 210 parts per trillion or higher is prohibited from being sold commercially. After tracing the contamination back to the Tozier Farm, DACF tested the milk three more times which yielded results of 12,700; 14,900; and 32,200 parts per trillion.

Products from the Tozier Farm were pulled off shelves in June.

DEP has also expanded its testing to other areas in Fairfield such as farmland along the Green Road, according to Madore.

Soil was tested, and if there was a well located onsite, it was also tested,” Madore said in an email Nov. 1. “As part of our ongoing investigation, these two sites were identified as having received biosolids previously.”

Beginning in 2019, DEP required all licensees approved to apply sludge to their land to test the sludge for PFOA, PFOS, and Perfluorobutane sulfonate, PFBS. 

“Based on this testing, some licensees were required to modify their best management practices regarding the amount of sludge that could be applied per unit area and or were required to test soil at land application sites to ensure that screening levels would not be exceeded,” Madore said in an email Oct. 29. “If screening levels were exceeded, land application at the site was not permitted by DEP. The DEP has established ongoing PFAS testing requirements for these entities.”

Gov. Janet Mills also created a PFAS task force earlier this year aimed at identifying the extent of PFAS exposure in the state, examining the risk of exposure to the environment and people and recommending how the state move forward.

“In their January 2020 report, the Maine PFAS Task Force recommended that the DEP require regular testing of all wastewater residuals for PFAS prior to land application or commercial distribution in Maine. This requirement has been established,” Madore said. “The task force also recommended that DEP investigate the availability of treatment and disposal technologies that minimize the potential for environmental PFAS contamination.  This investigation and evaluation process is ongoing.”

Judy Poulin says sludge was spread in the fields on both sides of Ohio Hill Road near her home at 403 Ohio Hill Road in Fairfield. She has lived at the home since 2003. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

HEALTH ADVOCATES: TEST ALL FARMS THAT SPREAD SLUDGE

But for Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of Defend Our Health, formerly known as the Environmental Health Strategy Center, the state is not doing enough.

MacRoy believes that in addition to testing sludge, the state needs to test every farm in the state that has spread sludge, test all of the products that have come into contact with sludge and improve its method for testing milk.

Quite frankly, they aren’t approaching it (testing) very well,” MacRoy said during a phone interview Oct. 28. “They’re testing retail milk, they’re testing milk bought from a store, which is a mix of milk from many different farms so you’re diluting the sample from any given farm by testing that way. So they’re not even testing the farms that have received sludge in the past, they’re just testing milk at retail … this is not a testing strategy designed to identify farms that have problems.

Defend Our Health is a Portland-based nonprofit organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals in food products and water. 

“We advocate strongly for the state to take more action on this,” MacRoy said. “We’re going to continue to advocate for state action and legislation in the next session to keep moving the state forward.” 

MacRoy told the Press Herald in July that the state should have begun testing milk from farms that had spread sludge after a dairy farm in Arundel experienced a similar situation as the Tozier Dairy Farm.

In 2016, the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District found elevated levels of PFAS in a well on the property of Fred Stone, whose family had run Stoneridge Farm for nearly a century.

For decades, Stone had spread sludge from waste treatment plants on his farm, which ultimately resulted in the contamination.

Following the discovery of the contamination, Stone was forced to stop selling milk and had to kill off more than half of his herd.

MacRoy said that Defend Our Health would like to see the state test all of the farms that have used sludge in the past.

“You can’t just spread this stuff without a license so the state has compiled a spreadsheet of all the farms that have used sludge historically,” MacRoy said. “So what we would like to see the state do is use that and go systematically to the places that have received it, test the soil and test the agricultural products that are still produced in those places.”

Though state officials have not yet confirmed a connection between the contamination on the Tozier Farm and the wells on Cookson’s and Poulin’s properties, MacRoy said that he’s seen similar situations in Aroostook County.

We’ve done some work with some families up in Presque Isle that neighbor a field that is used for sludge disposal by the water utility up there and they’ve had their wells contaminated as well,” MacRoy said. 

Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said that she’s communicating with DEP to come up with a way to provide clean water to residents who are getting their wells tested or have been impacted by the contamination.

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