FAIRFIELD — While the Department of Environmental Protection has expanded testing wells for toxic chemicals, the Fairfield town office has continued to distribute bottled water to residents whose water supply has been contaminated.

According to David Madore, acting deputy commissioner for DEP, out of 31 wells that have been tested, 18 wells have levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFOA and PFOS, that are higher than the 70 parts per trillion limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This week, DEP will test 39 water supplies which will also include a series of retests on wells that have already been identified as having high levels of PFAS, the group of man-made “forever chemicals” that PFOA and PFOS are a part of.

The wells that are being retested will also be tested for chemicals other than PFAS.

Judy Poulin, 77, is having her well retested this week. She was among the group of residents who were instructed to stop using their well water for drinking and cooking because of the high levels of PFAS. The well is marked with an antique seeder. Poulin has lived at the house since 2003. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

“During that sampling event, we only tested for PFAS chemicals. In order to design a water supply treatment system, aka carbon filters, we need to sample for parameters other than PFAS chemicals,” Madore said in an email Thursday. “By way of example, we need to know water hardness levels to know if pre-treatment for hardness is necessary in order for the carbon filters to perform satisfactorily.  So, during the retest we will sample for PFAS again as well as any other parameters necessary for design of effective carbon filter systems.”

Carbon filter systems are used to absorb natural organic compounds, taste and odor compounds, and synthetic organic chemicals from drinking water, according to the EPA. These systems are the most studied treatment for PFAS removal.

Judy Poulin, 77, is having her well retested this week.

“I’m not sure what they’re thinking about doing, but they’re going to retest it,” Poulin said. “Maybe they’re thinking of installing a filter, but I’m not sure.”

Poulin was among the group of residents who were instructed to stop using their well water for drinking and cooking because of the high levels of PFAS.

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.

“The water supplies previously identified as impacted were sampled as part of our efforts to properly design filter systems for each residence,” Molly King, a senior environment hydrogeologist with DEP told Town Manager Michelle Flewelling through email Thursday. “We expect to receive the results from this recent sampling round in late December.”

King said DEP is continuing to evaluate the potential sources for PFAS in the area and expects “this work to continue for some time.”

“This includes groundwater and soil sampling efforts,” King said. “Additionally, we are working on procedures to install filter systems on impacted water supplies as a long-term solution for mitigating PFAS impacts.”

PFAS were first introduced in the 1940s and eventually became 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, and 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.

The investigation into a PFAS contamination in Fairfield began last February after the state ran its second round of retail milk testing.

During this testing, the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry discovered milk from Tozier Dairy Farm had levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid that were higher than the limit.

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.

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 used instead of fertilizer. State officials said the use of sludge, which can have organic benefits, is allowed in Maine and other states.

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

In November, the town office established a system to distribute water to those impacted by the contamination.

“The town of Fairfield is still assisting with water distribution by making the water available at the Fairfield Fire Station,” Flewelling said. “Since this location is staffed 24/7, it was the ideal choice for residents to be able to access their water allotment at a time that was most convenient to them.”

Flewelling said that 14 households are currently receiving a water allotment from the town.

“This equates to 39 gallons of water per day,” Flewelling said. “As of today, 487 gallons of water have been distributed.”

Last month, Poland Springs donated 960 gallons of water for the town to distribute to residents. Additionally, the town of Skowhegan donated 900 gallons of water that was left over from the recent no drink order.

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