FAIRFIELD — State agencies investigating the growing prevalence of “forever chemicals” face a daunting task in the new year as they look to expand testing in a rising number of Maine towns and in animals that roam areas with known contamination.

The investigation into the chemicals has grown exponentially in the last year, snowballing from a concern in isolated areas to a statewide priority that dives into the contamination of water, soil, animals and more.

Fairfield has been identified as a hotspot, the result of farmers using sludge from paper mills and municipal treatment plants to fertilize their fields. Investigators were led to a Fairfield dairy farm in 2020 after a random sample of milk found elevated levels of the chemicals, known as PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife in November issued a do-not-eat advisory for deer in the Fairfield area after finding a few with levels of PFAS so high that their venison shouldn’t be eaten more than three times a year. And PFAS subsequently were found in chicken eggs in the area.

Even before those discoveries, inspectors had found the chemicals in fish in Fairfield’s fish ponds off Industrial Drive, and placed signs advising that the fish not be eaten.

Looking to next year, wildlife testing will include turkeys in the Fairfield area and further testing of deer, and possibly other waterfowl as well, Inland Fisheries & Wildlife communications director Mark Latti said.


“We’ve had some preliminary discussions on how it will be conducted but haven’t ironed out the details yet,” Latti said.

The first priority will be turkeys because hunting season for them starts in May. The goal is to complete testing before hunting season for each animal, Latti said. A key aspect to the testing will be making sure the animals tested haven’t roamed out of their home range.

Legislature responds

PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals that were first created in the 1940s. Both oil and water resistant, the chemicals were used in a variety of products from food packaging to firefighting foam. But the chemicals are connected to a variety of health problems in people, and they do not break down in the environment or in the body, which is why they have come to be known as forever chemicals.

PFAS contamination in Maine has been linked to the spreading of sludge, a wastewater treatment byproduct. The sludge was used as an alternative to fertilizer beginning in the 1970s. Sludge is still being spread today, but must meet screening levels for PFAS, according to David Madore, director of communications for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. When not spread on land, the sludge is placed in landfills or processed into compost.

But even if the sludge used today doesn’t contain PFAS, the state is still working to determine the extent of contamination across the state.


For Fairfield residents, after the chemicals first appeared at the dairy farm on Ohio Hill Road, they were then detected in the private wells many residents use for water.

At the start of 2021, the DEP investigation was limited to Fairfield and had identified 29 contaminated wells. To date, the investigation has found 194 Fairfield wells with PFAS levels over the new legal limit for water, and the investigation has grown to include the neighboring areas of Benton, Oakland and Unity Township.

As it has become clear that the contamination is a problem across the state, the Legislature has responded by passing a number of PFAS-related bills.

One major piece was establishing a lower legal limit for PFAS in drinking water. Before the bill was adopted, the DEP was using the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory for PFAS in drinking water — 70 parts per trillion. But the new limit lowered that to 20 parts per trillion.

When DEP finds a well with contamination over the legal limit, it provides the household with bottled water to drink until a carbon filtration system can be installed and tested. The department so far has installed about 160 filter systems.

Prioritizing testing


In the new year, testing won’t just be focused on the Fairfield area, as a number of towns in central Maine can expect to see DEP inspectors stop by.

Legislation passed over the summer mandated that every site where sludge was spread must be tested for contamination. But the timeline is still up in the air.

The department released a list of towns across the state that will be the first priority for testing in the coming months. But there is not yet a finalized schedule for testing, Madore said.

“The DEP is prioritizing all sites where the land application of wastewater treatment plant sludge occurred in Maine into four tiers (Tiers I, II, III, & IV) to designate the approximate schedule for sampling,” Madore said by email. “Sites are being prioritized based on several criteria including the volume of material land applied, whether multiple generators used a site, the type of wastewater, and proximity of the site to water supplies.”

Tier 1 sites are locations where at least 10,000 cubic yards of sludge have been spread, where homes are within a half-mile of the sludge and where PFAS is likely to have been in the sludge, based on evaluations of known sources.

Central Maine towns included on this list are Albion, Canaan, Sidney, Skowhegan, Thorndike and Unity.

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