The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has once again expanded its investigation in central Maine into so-called “forever chemicals” contaminations of residential well water to now including areas of Oakland.

While the investigation began in Fairfield, just last month the department announced that the investigation had expanded to include Benton and Unity Township as well. 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. 

“The DEP’s investigation into PFAS in Maine’s environment continues to expand according to a risk-based approach which involves an evaluation of sites where sludge land application has occurred with consideration to the type and amount applied in relation to sensitive receptors,” David Madore, deputy commissioner and director of communications for the agency, said in an email. “The expansion of testing into communities such as Oakland, Benton and Unity Township is based on this approach.” 

In May, the department sampled 57 wells, focusing on residential wells that have not yet been tested in areas of Fairfield and Oakland. The department is still processing the samples, but results have come back for 26 wells, and four of them were found to have levels above the EPA advisory of 70 parts per trillion, according to Madore.  

Homeowners are being notified of the results as soon as possible, and in cases where the water is found to have levels above the health advisory bottled water is being provided. 

PFAS were first used in the 1940s in an array of consumer products, because they are resistant to water and oil, and can withstand high temperatures. PFAS have been used in everything from clothing and food packaging to firefighting foam.  

They are also linked to a variety of negative health effects, including elevated cholesterol, thyroid disease, damage to the liver and kidneys, effects on fertility and low birth weight.  

Excluding the wells tested in May, the environmental protection department has tested 214 residential wells in Fairfield and found 63 to have levels higher than the health advisory, 15 water supplies in Unity Township and found five to be above the advisory, and 28 water supplies in Benton and found 14 had levels above the advisory. 

The PFAS investigation in the area 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 pick up from the fire station. 

This month the department will continue testing, and will focus on areas in Benton and Fairfield. In Fairfield, the testing will be conducted in the area of Norridgewock Road near the intersection of Ohio Hill Road, and in Benton, along River Road generally between Route 139 and north of Interstate 95. 

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. 

As far as solutions to the problem, the department has been installing carbon filters in residences which can filter out PFAS and the town of Fairfield is in the very early stages of looking to expand the town’s water system to offer an alternative to the wells. 

The department began installing carbon filters in January, and will pay for the installation and maintenance of the filters — subject to available funding. 

In April, Fairfield put out a request for qualifications to support “civil and environmental engineering services for the planning and development of a public drinking water infrastructure plan.” 

Submissions for that process closed in May, and the town received responses from five firms: Dirigo Engineering, A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers, Wright-Pierce, Woodard and Curran, and Haley Ward (formerly CES Inc.). 

The next step in that process is for the Fairfield Town Council members to review the submissions, and then discuss choosing a firm. 

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