The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has expanded its investigation of so-called “forever chemicals” contaminating water wells in Fairfield to also include areas in Benton and Unity Township.

The state department has sampled 28 water supplies in Benton and found 14 had levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory, according to David Madore, deputy commissioner and director of communications for the agency. 

“The department is receiving and reviewing data from water supply sampling conducted over the last few weeks,” the environmental department said in a statement. “Homeowners are being notified of the results as soon as possible, and, where needed, bottled water is provided. We continue to identify water supplies at risk of PFAS impacts, and our next rounds of sampling are scheduled for the second half of May.” 

Stana McLeod pours a glass of water from her faucet at her home on Pirate Lane in Fairfield on Dec. 4, 2020. Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been testing well water in Fairfield, Benton and Unity Township for high levels of “forever chemicals.” Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

The department has sampled 15 water supplies in Unity Township and found five of those to be above the health advisory. Even so, the investigation has largely been focused on Fairfield, where the department has conducted several rounds of testing for five different kinds of PFAS. In total, officials have tested 214 residential wells and found 63 to have levels higher than the health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion — that’s roughly 29% of wells tested. 

PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a group of man-made chemicals often called “forever chemicals” because their bond is strong and they do not break down easily in the body or the environment. They were 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. 

In January, the environmental department began installing granular activated carbon or resin filtration systems in locations where the level of PFAS exceeded the health advisory, and the latest round of testing in the Fairfield area focused on the locations with those filters. 

“During April, our emphasis was primarily on filter system installation, sampling and maintenance and only a few new water supplies were tested in Fairfield,” Madore said.  

The department will pay for the installation and maintenance of the filters — subject to available funding. 

The department also sent out an email update on the investigation last week. Its next round of sampling will focus on the area near Gagnon Road, Center Road and the intersection of Middle Road and Norridgewock Road. Residents in that area who would like their water tested should fill out the form on the department’s website. 

If residents have already completed the form or have been in communication with the department about testing their water they do not need to fill out the form now. 

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

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

As the department continues to test water and install filters, Fairfield has begun the process of looking into ways to expand the town’s water system to reach those locations with contaminated wells.  

The town put out a request for qualifications last month to support “civil and environmental engineering services for the planning and development of a public drinking water infrastructure plan.” 

“The town itself is working on the expansion of (the) public drinking water system to help ensure that our residents have access to clean drinking water,” Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said at the time. “So the (request for qualifications) 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.” 

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