As the list of contaminated wells in Fairfield continues to grow, a Portland-based nonprofit is calling for the state to adopt stricter guidelines when it comes to testing water and food products for “forever chemicals.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of Defend Our Health, called the advisory level set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency “outdated” and urged the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Center for Disease Control to make a change.

“Maine must stop being an outlier with the least health protective drinking water standards in Northern New England,” MacRoy said.

Defend Our Health works to eliminate toxic chemicals in food products and water.

So far, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has discovered 29 wells in Fairfield that have levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFOA and PFOS — that are higher than the EPA’s maximum threshold of 70-parts-per-trillion limit.

States like Vermont and Massachusetts have adopted the standard limit of 20 parts per trillion, which MacRoy and other health advocates would like to see implemented in Maine.

“We urge DEP and CDC to immediately apply the Vermont standards when determining if Fairfield residents should be receiving bottled water and filtration,” MacRoy said. “… Fairfield residents with water results less than 70 ppt are being assured their water is ‘safe’ by Maine officials, even when their levels would be illegal to serve in neighboring New Hampshire.”

Defend Our Health has been working with state representatives to introduce a bill in the 130th Legislature that will set a state standard for PFAS that match the standard used in Vermont and Massachusetts.

Judy Poulin, 77, stands Nov. 9 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 file Buy this Photo

“If state officials aren’t willing to set health protective standards for PFAS, then it is incumbent on our representatives to force action,” MacRoy said.

PFAS were first introduced in the 1940s. They were used in consumer products, such as carpeting, fabric, clothing, food packaging, and pots and pans, and in firefighting foams used at airports, firefighting training facilities and military bases. 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.

Additionally, MacRoy and other health advocates are calling for the state to test every single location that has received sludge since it was licensed for agricultural use by DEP in 1978. 

Sludge is treated wastewater solids that can come from municipal or industrial sources. It is said to have organic benefits and is allowed in Maine and other states across the country.

The state’s investigation first began in February 2020 after milk from the Tozier Dairy Farm in Fairfield was found to have 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 were pulled from shelves in June 2020.

Investigators believe the contamination of the farm came from the use of sludge.

“Health advocates are also calling on the state to step up efforts to test other locations that received similar sludge as the Fairfield farm that is believed to be the source of the contamination,” MacRoy said. “The Tozier Dairy Farm was identified as having some of the highest levels of PFAS in their cows’ milk reported in North America, triggering the investigation of the land and surrounding wells.  The contamination at Tozier, like that at the Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, is believed to be the result of the use of industrial and municipal sludge as fertilizer.”

Bob Bowcock, a water expert for the Erin Brockovich Foundation, has recently become involved in the investigation and has called for the spreading of sludge to be stopped immediately.

“I think the land application of sludge in the United States should be subject of an emergency order by whatever branch of (government) it takes to cease immediately. It’s got to stop,” Bowcock said Jan. 8.

MacRoy criticized state officials on their lack of action even though they have resources readily available.

“Yet despite having developed a list of every location that has received sludge similar to that spread at Tozier and Stoneridge farms, the Mills administration has yet to actively test these sites for contamination,” MacRoy said. “Rather, they have embarked on a haphazard sampling of store-bought milk, not knowing in advance the farm sources of the milk. By nothing more than luck, a sample included the Tozier’s milk … 

“The state has the information on where potentially contaminated sludge has been spread. It has the authority to conduct testing. Yet, it has failed to act. Fairfield residents have been drinking contaminated water for years, perhaps even decades. Families across the state may be drinking contaminated milk. How many more Fairfields are there across the state? How many more farms are impacted? The only way to know is to follow-up and test the locations that have received sludge.”

Defend Our Health has also worked with state legislators to introduce a bill that would require DEP to test locations that have received potentially contaminated sludge. 

Health advocates are also looking for the use of PFAS to stop and be replaced with alternatives wherever possible.

“It’s important that we’re addressing the sources of these chemicals,” MacRoy said. “That’s the other thing we hope the Legislature will consider is how to stop PFAS chemicals from entering the environment in the first place by getting them out of products …”

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