Ashley Gooldrup and her fiance, Troy Reny, bought a house on Howe Road in Fairfield in 2020. Now, their well has tested astronomically high for “forever chemicals.” The town is looking at the possible expansion of public drinking water to those whose wells have been contaminated with the dangerous chemicals. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Fairfield has put out a request for experts to participate in an expansion of the town’s public water system to areas where the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has identified unsafe levels of “forever chemicals.”

The town posted a public notice Tuesday that it had issued a request for qualifications, or RFQ, to support “civil and environmental engineering services for the planning and development of a public drinking water infrastructure plan.”

Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said the town is in the early stages of the project, which is why it is looking for consultants and firms with experience.

“The town itself is working on the expansion of public drinking water system to help ensure that our residents have access to clean drinking water,” Flewelling said. “So the RFQ is to help us find a firm that has a lot more knowledge in how to go about doing these expansion projects, and to help guide us through that process.”

Because the Maine DEP is still investigating and testing wells in Fairfield, it is difficult to determine the scope of the project now and what is feasible.

The Central Maine Growth Council works with municipalities in the area, including Fairfield, to support planning and economic development. Garvan Donegan, the council’s director of planning, innovation and economic development, spoke about the goals of this phase of the project.

“The objective here is to really develop a thorough and comprehensive planning process and onboard subject matter experts with regards to public drinking water infrastructure and the creation of a plan as to assess the scale, scope, and cost associated with potential build out of public infrastructure,” Donegan said.

He said the council’s role with the project will likely be working with the town to onboard experts and assist with project management.

The MDEP has been investigating residential wells in Fairfield for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFOA and PFOS, which are often called “forever chemicals” because their bond is strong and they do not break down easily in the body or the environment.

The investigation began in February after milk from Tozier Dairy Farm in Fairfield was found to have levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid that were greater than the state-allowed limit of 210 parts per trillion.

PFAS are manmade chemicals first used in the 1940s in consumer products, including carpeting, fabric, clothing and food packaging. PFAS were also used in firefighting foam used at military bases, airports and training facilities.

MDEP has ongoing testing of residential wells for the chemicals, and has found a number of wells with levels higher than the EPA’s maximum limit of 70 parts per trillion.

As an interim solution (subject to available funding) the MDEP will pay for the installation and maintenance of a granular activated carbon or resin filtration systems for locations with contaminated wells. But, Flewelling said, because that is subject to available funding, it’s possible that at some point in the future residents could be asked to take over the maintenance of the filters, and the town wants to offer an alternative.

“(The MDEP) will provide care and maintenance for those filtration systems as long as funding is available, which is one of the reasons why the need for expanding public drinking water is high,” Flewelling said. “Because while folks have active and functioning filtration systems now, when it does get to the point where residents have to maintain them themselves, they may find that the public drinking water is the better solution.”

The MDEP has also been buying bottled water for residents, and the town is assisting in the distribution of the water, which is available for a scheduled pickup from the fire station.

While there is not yet a designated funding source for the project, Flewelling said the town has been looking into grants and other sources. She said she is hopeful the town will not have to go to local taxpayers for the money.

Consultants and firms must submit requests for additional information by April 23, and all submissions will be answered by April 30. Then, final submissions must be completed by May 7, after which they will be reviewed by the Fairfield Town Council.

“We’re excited to see what can become of it,” Flewelling said, “and how we can try to take an unfortunate situation and maybe, hopefully, turn it around for the community.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: