FAIRFIELD — As the state continues to investigate water and farmland in Fairfield that are contaminated with “forever chemicals,” the town and some of its residents are mobilizing to come up with long-term solutions in 2021.

Lifelong Fairfield resident Stana McLeod, 74, has formed a Facebook group that now has more than 40 members.

McLeod posts information to educate residents about the ongoing investigation and a similar situation that unfolded more than 20 years ago, both involving the spreading of sludge.

So far, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has discovered 18 wells in Fairfield that have levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFOA and PFOS — that are higher than the 70-parts-per-trillion limit allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The discoveries came after a test was conducted by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in February that showed milk from Tozier Dairy Farm along Ohio Hill Road had levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid that were higher than the state-allowed limit of 210 parts per trillion.

Milk samples from the farm had levels of 12,700, 14,900 and 32,200 parts per trillion. The farm’s products have been pulled from shelves.

Jerri-Lee Cookson, 65, who lives less than a mile from two fields owned by the Toziers and 3 miles from the farm, is among those who have had their water sources tested.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection officials discovered in September 2020 that Cookson’s water contained such high levels of PFOS and PFOA that she was advised to stop drinking it.

Cookson’s neighbor, Judy Poulin, 77, had even higher levels of the chemicals in her water and was told to stop using it, too.

Judy Poulin, 77, is among a group of Fairfield 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

“My right to clean water has been taken away from me, and I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Poulin said in November 2020. “I’m not a happy camper.”

In October, Poulin began hauling five-gallon containers of fresh water to her house for drinking and cooking.

“Those things are heavy,” she said. “I have to wait for somebody to come to bring them in the house for me.”

PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals introduced in the 1940s. They were used in consumer products, such as carpeting, fabric, clothing, food packaging and pots and pans. They were also used in firefighting foams used at airports, training facilities and military bases.

They are called “forever chemicals” because their bond is strong and they do not break down easily in the environment or in the body.

Studies 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 show links between PFAS and the elevated risk of certain cancers, according to the U.S. EPA and other sources.

In 2021, McLeod said she will continue following the investigation so she and other residents can file a class-action lawsuit through Susan A. Faunce, a personal-injury lawyer from Lewiston.

“(Faunce) handles things like this, and they suggested that I — as people find out their wells are contaminated — I would have them call there and talk to her,” McLeod said in December. “They will keep a record of these people, and then we can talk about the class-action lawsuit.”

McLeod said she remembered a similar situation that arose from the disposal of paper mill waste in a Fairfield landfill in the 1970s and 1980s. From McLeod’s grandmother’s house, the landfill could be seen glowing in the dark, sometimes catching fire, smelling horrible and being connected to a cancer cluster.

With PFAS chemicals, the threat became insidious because the sludge was billed as beneficial to farmland and lasting “forever,” according to reports.

“I feel like we are doomed out here,” McLeod said in an interview in December, adding her efforts to bring the situation to the attention of local and state officials were not getting through.

Stana McLeod pours a glass of water Dec. 4 from the kitchen faucet at her house on Pirate Lane in Fairfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Meanwhile, Fairfield will continue providing bottled water to residents who have been told to stop drinking from their wells while the state installs filtration systems.

“The Department of Environmental protection has assured me that they will continue to make water available to residents with effected wells until they can install the granular activated carbon filtration systems at each private home,” Town Manager Michelle Flewelling wrote in a Dec. 23 email.

“The Town provides updates to residents, that are received from DEP, with the weekly water pick up.  Those updates are then posted to our website under the PFAS notification section.”

In November, Poland Spring, the bottler of spring water, donated 960 gallons of water for the town to distribute to residents. The town of Skowhegan has also donated 900 gallons of water that was left from the apparent contamination of its drinking water system that resulted in a “do not drink” order.

Fairfield is also looking to expand its water system as another long-term solution.

“The Town is currently investigating the extension of the Kennebec Water District’s infrastructure so that public water can be provided as a long term solution,” Flewelling wrote in her email.

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