What’s the deal with PFAS in Maine?

The DEP has expanded the investigation into PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) contaminated well water in Fairfield and its neighboring towns. As of May 2021, 63 wells in Fairfield have tested above the U.S. EPA’s safe advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The number of tainted wells is still climbing. The water sampling and investigation has not been limited to the town of Fairfield. Unsafe PFAS levels are also manifesting in nearby communities. Investigators have collected samples from Benton, Unity Township and Oakland. According to the DEP, 14 out of 28 water samples from Benton were over 70 ppt. Benton’s levels ranged from undetectable to 2,050 ppt in the aggregate of five different types of PFAS. In nearby Unity, the PFAS levels were elevated as well. Out of 15 water samples, five samples ranged from undetectable to 2,900 ppt. According to the DEP, regulators are also considering testing other communities. The DEP plans to expand PFAS testing as they continue to prioritize sampling in accordance with a risk-based system. Click for more Maine DEP updates on PFAS

Contaminated well water continues to be of great concern to affected homeowners and farmers alike. There may be some good news though. The DEP has begun installing activated carbon filter systems in affected homes with more systems being installed each week. Furthermore, Fairfield’s town officials began expanding public water along the Route 201 corridor several weeks ago as well. According to Michelle Fleweling, Fairfield’s town manager, “One section at a time we can try to ensure that clean drinking water is available to everyone who needs it.” Fairfield has also been providing free bottled water to residents if their well water tested above the EPA’s safe limit.

Recently in Maine, there have been many proposals and bills targeting PFAS chemicals. In particular, a bill is progressing through the Maine Legislature that would require most of Maine’s fire departments to adjust to using a toxic free foam. Additionally, the legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee is reviewing a bill to restrict the sale of PFAS firefighting foam in Maine. This bill would require manufacturers to either, recall, buyback or replace AFFF (aqueous film forming foam) with a PFAS free alternative by January 2022. This is a difficult task as the need for immediate replacement of an effective product could impact the public’s safety; especially when a fire department may not have the funding available to replace it. Some of the significant areas in Maine that have been affected by this AFFF are the Brunswick Naval Air Station, Navy VLF Transmitter Cutler, Houlton International Airport, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and the former Loring Air Force Base. Likewise, federal law requires the use of PFAS firefighting foams at airports in the United States. However, there is a congressional mandate of the FAA to convert to fluorine-free firefighting foams by October 2021. The Department of Defense must come up with a PFAS free foam by 2024.

Looking towards the future, a Maine legislative committee voted unanimously to require manufacturers to notify state environmental regulators about products that contain PFAS as well as to prohibit the sale of carpeting and fabric treatment containing these ‘forever chemicals’. In addition to this, Governor Mills’ budget proposal seeks funding for the impacts of toxic PFAS substance issues in Maine. This proposal would allot $15 million to assist farmers impacted by PFAS, $15 million to dispense potable drinking water to affected homeowners, and $5 million each for testing and managing PFAS contaminated waste. Another legislative committee voted in April 2021 to endorse stricter health standards for PFAS in drinking water. If approved, this proposal would add Maine to a list of other states that have ratified stricter contamination limits on PFAS. This bill in particular would set a limit of 20 ppt in drinking water for certain types of PFAS instead of the recommended 70 ppt. Ultimately the PFAS Task Force, which was created in March 2019, has recommended several bills to deal with PFAS in Maine. There are more than six bills concerning this issue pending in the Maine Legislature.

Keeping all of this in mind, Governor Janet Mills has asked the Maine congressional delegation to aid in securing federal funding to confront Maine’s “forever chemicals.” Mills wrote, “Maine is currently on the front edge of PFAS discovery and response, and by having the resources and support in the form of federal leadership as we navigate this incredibly complex and devastating issue, it will ultimately benefit other states as they begin to grapple with the impacts of PFAS contamination.” 

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