In response to the recent opinion column in the about per and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, in the Hallowell Water District supply, the trustees of the Hallowell Water District (HWD) would like to provide clarification to statements that were either misleading or erroneous (“Community Compass: Hallowell must remove PFAS from its public water supply,” June 7).

The HWD is regulated by the state of Maine under the umbrella of the Maine Center for Disease Control (MECDC). As a public water system, the monthly, quarterly, annual and triennial sampling protocol is heavily regulated by the State and Federal governments. PFAS comprises many different compounds, but only six are regulated by the state of Maine. Currently, the state has set the maximum contaminant limit (MCL) at 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of the six PFAS compounds. The current level of PFAS in Hallowell Water District drinking water is 14.4 ppt, which is below the 20 ppt level.

Until April 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not regulate PFAS in drinking water. At that time, EPA adopted MCLs for four individual PFAS ranging from 4 ppt and 10 ppt. Public water systems must also achieve the following milestones: 1) complete three years of monitoring by 2027 followed by ongoing compliance monitoring, 2) provide the public with information on the levels of PFAS in their drinking water beginning in 2027, and 3) if PFAS levels exceed the MCLs, implement treatment solutions to reduce PFAS levels by 2029. The state of Maine is considering adopting these standards, but obviously due to the timing, the Maine Legislature has not had time to address this issue.  Thus, the 20 ppt MCL is still in effect.

With respect to HWD’s response to the presence of PFAS, the following actions have been completed:

PFAS sampling began in 2022 as required by the MDWP, and since that time, PFAS levels have fluctuated between 14.4 and 18.8 ppt.

Once it was clear that PFAS levels were close to or above the MDWP MCL, the HWD informed its customers in a mailing in July 2022.

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The HWD immediately began planning for the installation of a PFAS-free tap at the HWD building as an interim step. This process unfortunately required a complicated approval process by the MECDC, but since April 2024, the tap is now available for HWD customers 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

At the same time, the HWD aggressively pursued grant opportunities beginning in 2023 with the MDWP to fund the installation of a permanent treatment system, and began soliciting engineering bids for its construction in late 2023. It is estimated that the treatment system will likely cost close to $10 million.

HWD selected the engineering company Wright-Pierce in March 2024 to design and oversee the installation of the treatment system, and their work is underway. With respect to state grants, the HWD received $200,000 for design and $4 million for construction.

It should be noted that designing a treatment plant takes years along with numerous agencies and engineering firms assisting or weighing in on this process. While we may wish it is as simple as installing a Brita water filter at home, it isn’t. Many issues must be considered and handled appropriately such as the chemical composition of raw water. For example, the water will need to be first treated for iron and manganese in order to allow the PFAS treatment system to work effectively.

In summary, PFAS have only become regulated on a state and federal level within the past three years, and the actions and plans of the HWD to address it are far ahead of EPA’s deadlines, as well as ahead of most other public water systems in Maine. Given all the aforementioned requirements, regulation and oversight by various government entities and the board of trustees, the assertion that HWD water is unsafe to drink is inaccurate. HWD water is safe to drink and meets all current state and federal standards. The HWD will keep its customers informed as to its progress, and its trustees have quarterly public meetings and welcome customers with questions and concerns regarding their drinking water.

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