Judy Poulin, 77, near a well that was reportedly contaminated by sludge containing “forever chemicals’ spread in fields near her home at 403 Ohio Hill Road in Fairfield. The well is marked with an antique seeder. Poulin has lived at the house since 2003. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

FAIRFIELD — State officials told the Fairfield Town Council on Wednesday that 28 more wells have been tested, with 12 exceeding the EPA’s limits for “forever chemicals,” a collection of strongly bonded compounds that can have adverse effects on health.

Penny Harkins, who lives on Currier Road and whose family has suffered health problems, asked why an emergency had not been declared concerning the contamination.

David Burns, director of the state Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, said the situation was a “serious concern,” and the state had been expending resources to learn what was happening in the area.

The state has set up a one-week program to distribute bottled water to affected residents, according to Burns.

Fairfield Town Manager Michele Flewelling wrote in an email Thursday the town had received 160 cases — or 960 gallons — of water from Poland Spring, and the first week’s supply of that water was distributed last Friday.

The state DEP has allotted one gallon per person per day.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen after this water is used up,” Flewelling said. “But what we do know is that we are working on securing the next round of water.”

Representatives from the state DEP, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevetion and the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry attended the council meeting Wednesday to address the state’s ongoing investigation into area farmland and drinking water contaminated with “forever chemicals.”

Nancy McBrady, the director of the Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources Bureau, started the meeting and said the investigation initially began in February after the Agriculture department discovered milk from Tozier Dairy Farm had levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid that were higher than the limit of 210 parts per trillion set by the state.

“We conducted another round (of retail milk testing) this year, and while the majority of the results again came in with no concern, there was one processor that had a result that we wanted to investigate further,” McBrady said. “We were able to trace it back. There were three potential farms, … and this is how the department was able to identify Tozier Dairy Farm in Fairfield.”

Milk with levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, also known as PFOS, of 210 parts per trillion or higher is prohibited from being sold commercially. Milk from Tozier Dairy Farm had levels of 12,700; 14,900 and 32,200 parts per trillion.

McBrady said the state is going to conduct its third round of retail milk testing next month.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFOS and PFOA), a 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.

The contamination at the Tozier Dairy Farm at 62 Ohio Hill Road 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. State officials said the use of sludge, which can have organic benefits, is allowed in Maine and other states.

“Maine and many other states have had a longstanding legal practice of land spreading of these treated waste water residuals, as well as industrial residuals,” McBrady said. “PFAS was not known to exist or the implications of them were not known at the time. This is an emerging chemical, and we’re really just beginning to understand the impact.”

After the contamination was discovered at the Tozier farm, the DEP began testing nearby residential wells used for drinking water.

 “We were simply testing back at the farm site, looking at soil, looking at the various crop sources, the manure,” Burns said. “And as time went by and we were able to step out and expand to further test the hypothesis, we started seeing that there was a next level that we needed to go to which was the residential drinking water supplies.” 

Burns told the council and attendees the DEP had tested 28 wells, with 12 exceeding the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’ve set up an interim plan now to distribute one week’s worth of bottled water to the impacted residents,” Burns said. “We also understand the town has secured an additional 30-day supply of bottled water from a supplier as a temporary measure. Additional work will be forthcoming on designing and installing long-term treatment systems for any of these impacted residents.”

Cattle barns, a residence and other structures that are part of the Tozier Dairy Farm are shown Tuesday along state Route 104 in Fairfield. The farm is located along Ohio Hill Road. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Residents Jerri-Lee Cookson, 65, and Judy Poulin, 77, have been advised by the DEP not to use their well water.

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

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

Burns said the investigation began with the locations along Ohio Hill Road, but has expanded to land and wells on Nyes Corner, Currier Road and Ridge Road.

Developed in the 1940s, PFAS would eventually be used widely in household products because the chemical resisted water, grease and staining.

These chemicals were used in consumer products, such as carpeting, fabric, clothing, food packaging, pots and pans. The chemicals were also used in firefighting foams used at airports, firefighting training facilities and military bases.

The chemicals have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because their bond is so strong and they do not break down easily in the environment or in the body.

Studies of these chemicals have shown 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.

Andrew Smith, a toxicologist with the state CDC, discussed these health risks during Wednesday’s meeting. He also spoke to the different ways humans are exposed to PFAS.

“What we’ve learned so far is that when it comes to drinking water, the primary route of concern for exposure is drinking and beverage preparation. Think coffee, tea,” Smith said. “And cooking. Think foods that need to be hydrated or incorporate water as part of a recipe. Drinking and beverage prep is around 80% of your exposure potential. Cooking is then after that.”

Smith said certain activities, such as bathing and brushing one’s teeth, are considered “trivial exposures” and not of concern.

After the presentations, the council gave residents the chance to ask questions.

“My question for CDC is human testing, in my research, seems to have been at much lower levels than what we are experiencing here. That and the length of time that we’ve been exposed to the contaminants which we know is years,” Penny Harkins said. “So there is certainly a great concern for health issues.

“We’ve seen a lot of unexplained (things). My husband died six years ago with no preexisting conditions. Dropped dead of a heart attack. My mother has neurological neuropathy. I’m disabled. I have multiple immune system issues, so, CDC, has there been any human studies at the levels that we’ve been experiencing and for the length of time that we’ve been exposed to it?”

Harkins said her well water showed levels of PFAS at nearly 8,000 parts per trillion.

In response, Smith pointed to a particular study the state CDC has used to learn about the health impacts on humans.

“Much of what we’ve learned about the health effects comes from what is called the C8 study in the Ohio Valley area. That was a community that had a public water supply contaminated from a DuPont teflon manufacturing facility, and they had levels of 2,000 to 5,000 parts per trillion,” Smith said.

“And the number you mentioned is in that range, although it may be at the higher end. What I can’t speak to is the duration. I think theirs was for some period of time. Right now what we have is one sampling point for here, so I just can’t give you a scientific response to how long.”

In questioning why Fairfield’s situation had not been declared an emergency, Harkins said: “I think our levels are pretty darn critical. Drinking water is the purest way of human contamination, so understanding that our wells are contaminated at the levels that we know they are, why are we not being made a priority?”

Burns noted the state has been putting “a great deal of resources” into the investigation.

“I don’t quite understand the ‘why you’re not being made a priority’ part of the comment,” Burns said. “This is a serious concern. We’re expending the resources to understand what’s going on.

“We’re still in the investigating stage of understanding the extent of this situation in Fairfield. We do not know yet where the limits are, so we are doing both an investigation while we’re looking at and starting to discuss what the long-term remediation will be at this site.”

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