TREMONT — Officials from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) told selectmen Monday that after December, the town would no longer be reimbursed for bottled water for residents whose wells have been contaminated by chemicals from the town’s closed landfill.
“We considered that a stopgap until we could find a more permanent solution,” said Brian Beneski of the DEP.
The town began providing bottled water to the affected residents in 2013. Under a DEP program, the state reimburses the town 90 percent of the cost.
The town now is providing bottled water to three homeowners and one business, according to Town Manager Dana Reed. The town additionally is paying the rental fee for a bottled water dispenser but not water to another business that is no longer in operation, he said.
The landfill was closed in 1996. In 2008, the DEP began testing 14 wells in the Harbor Drive and Flat Iron Road neighborhood to see if contaminants were leaching from the landfill. The water from eight wells was found to contain one or more contaminants that exceed maximum allowable levels. Among the contaminants are manganese, iron and arsenic.
On Monday, Richard Behr of the DEP told selectmen that the department still maintains that a public water supply is the best solution to water quality issues in the area around the landfill. The DEP first made the recommendation in 2013. The alternative would be to install treatment systems in the homes and businesses, he said.
Since the bottled water program began, two homeowners have opted to have the systems installed. Again, the DEP reimburses the town for 90 percent of the cost. The town is responsible for the cost of maintaining the systems.
Selectmen voted 5-0 to have Reed contact the people receiving bottled water and advise them that the program is ending. The motion also requested that Reed contact water treatment companies for information about systems and their cost.
Water quality issues in the area, however, aren’t limited to contaminants from the landfill. Some wells have high levels of salt. In some cases, the levels exceed the maximum allowable in state guidelines, Behr said.
“It’s clear to me that road salt is contributing,” Behr said, adding that he has ruled out saltwater intrusion into the wells. He pointed the finger at the town’s salt sand storage facility adjacent to the town office.
Behr said testing has shown the levels of salt have increased substantially after the town began storing winter road sand there.
“That data is telling me the storage facility is contributing,” he said.
In response to Reed’s question about how best to store the salt and sand, Behr recommended contacting a salt-sand specialist at the DEP for recommendations.
The Maine Department of Transportation once had a large uncovered salt sand storage facility near the town office. That, too, could be contributing to the salt problem.
Behr said treatment systems could take care of the salt problem. The town would not be reimbursed by the DEP for part of the installation costs under the landfill remediation program as it has been with the bottled water. It is not clear if there are programs or grants to help cover the expense.
Behr said he has seen an increase in the levels of other contaminants in the test wells.
“There has been an overwhelming increase in iron and manganese,” he said.
This most likely is due to the density of septic systems in the area, Behr said.
Behr said further testing of wells in the neighborhood would not be useful.
“We feel that we’ve done enough sampling in the community to say, ‘Yeah, the water is pretty crappy in this neighborhood.’”