Bottled water is available Friday at the Fairfield Fire Department to residents whose wells have tested above the acceptable numbers for so-called “forever chemicals.” Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD — More residents will be needing access to bottled water every week, now that the eligibility has been widened for those affected by so-called “forever chemicals” in local water wells.

That water had previously been available to residents whose water was found to have levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, above the Environmental Protection Agency’s health guidance of 70 parts per trillion. However, this week Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation lowering the legal limit for PFAs in drinking water to 20 parts per trillion.

This means that the bottled water is now available to residents whose water has tested above that new limit and it means the town will need to find a location with more space than the fire station to store and distribute the water. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been providing bottled water for those affected, and the town has been assisting in facilitating the water storage and pickup out of the fire station.

Fairfield had previously been providing water for 39 households, and the new threshold would double the list of those eligible for water pickup. The environmental department has been providing around 650 gallons of water, so the fire station won’t be able to accommodate a doubling of bottled water product.

“There’s open space left, but the last thing you want to do is put something in the path of a first responder when they’re in a hurry to get to a truck and a piece of equipment,” Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said. “So that’s where we start to have to draw the line and say this does actually impede our ability to respond to an emergency.”

Bottled water is available Friday at the Fairfield Fire Department to residents whose wells have tested above the acceptable numbers for PFAS, or “forever chemicals.” Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Flewelling said she is working with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a different way to provide the water to residents in a sustainable way for the town.

Meanwhile, Fairfield will hire locally-based Dirigo Engineering to help assess and plan an expansion of the town’s drinking water system to offer an alternative to residents with wells contaminated with PFAS. At a council meeting Wednesday, the council voted to award the contract to Dirigo Engineering.

Flewelling said Dirigo Engineering was recommended by a committee that reviewed the submissions because of the firm’s familiarity with the area, and the detailed funding proposals included in the submission.

“This is all happening quite frankly, in their backyard and front yard,” Flewelling said. “They did present the best possible solutions for us, and managed to in their proposal hit all of the requirements that we had asked for in the (request), with a lot of information regarding funding and funding sources.”

Fairfield began looking into expanding the drinking water system in April, when the town 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.”

The goal of the project is to offer an alternative to filter systems for residents with levels of PFAS over the legal limit.

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 & Curran, and Haley Ward (formerly CES Inc.).

“We received some wonderful proposals from some wonderful firms that have expertise in this type of project. We were grateful for the some of the large firms that we received information from as well as lesser-known firms,” Flewelling said.

The town convened a committee to review the submissions, made up of Flewelling; Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council; Roger Crouse, general manager of the Kennebec Water District; and Michael Watson, a Fairfield resident affected by the water contamination and used to work for Central Maine Power Co. reviewing similar submissions.

The committee reviewed all of the submissions, and recommended to Dirigo Engineering to the Town Council. To start, the town will use money from the Planning and Development Reserve Account to pay for the ongoing process, but Flewelling said she hopes to apply for grant funds to supplement that.

Now, Dirigo Engineering will begin looking into feasible options for the expansion project, and potential costs for those options. The plan is for the firm to put together a report in the next six months.

Flewelling said the committee wanted to act swiftly, and encouraged the town council to do so as well, so that the project can be ready once grant opportunities become available.

The project is spurred by an ongoing investigation by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection into PFAS, contamination in wells in Fairfield, as well as areas of Benton, Unity Township and Oakland.

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

Flewelling said that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection told her that households that have tested for levels about the 20 parts per trillion mark will now be eligible for carbon filtration systems as well.


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