TRENTON — The Trenton Select Board has voted to set aside $20,000 to test wells in the town for PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals.
PFAS chemicals are also known as “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down in the environment or the body and are known to cause health problems including various cancers, endocrine disorders and birth defects. Testing for the presence of these chemicals was deemed to be an approved use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, and the $20,000 will be appropriated from that funding.
Trenton resident Christina Heiniger is the spokesperson for PFAS Free Trenton (PFT), a group that was founded after PFAS chemicals were found in the water supply of Trenton Elementary School. The group is dedicated to testing local water for the harmful chemicals and ensuring that drinking water in the town is safe.
“We’re a group of Trenton residents and we formed a little over a year ago,” Heiniger said. “We joined together because the Trenton Elementary School tested for high levels of PFAS chemicals.”
The level of PFAS chemicals found in the elementary school’s water supply was 33.9 parts per trillion, which is higher than the state standard of 20 parts per trillion for drinking water. This issue was remediated last fall, but many residents are still concerned about other water sources in the town.
“We only know that there was kind of a hotspot around the school, and we want to know if there are other areas,” Heiniger said.
With the $20,000 of ARPA funding set aside, the town will be able to purchase 100 tests, which will be available for the residents who have signed up to have their wells tested through PFT. Over 100 residents of the town have already put their names on the list for testing.
“If people want to be considered for that just email our group,” Heiniger said. “We’ll put them in the drawing. We don’t want people to be discouraged that there are only 100 [tests].”
In its proposal to the Select Board, PFT explains the procedure for testing the wells of those who have signed up for this service, beginning with high-risk areas before moving to random selection.
“Once there is a final list of interested residents, priority would be given to people who are in areas of high risk (such as near the airport or fire station), have a shallow well or are year-round residents. In addition, we could ensure that some homes are selected representing diverse geographical areas in Trenton to help identify where more testing may be needed. Beyond these priorities, residences would be selected at random,” PFT stated in its proposal.
The water samples from the wells will be tested by A and L Laboratories in Auburn, a facility that specializes in testing water to ensure that it is safe for use. Representatives from Defend Our Health will be available to assist residents with testing to ensure that it is done properly.
If there is a high level of PFAS contamination among residential wells in the town, residents who have contaminated wells will be referred to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which will provide recommendations for filtration systems to remediate the water source.
“If something shows up, we can pursue more with the Maine DEP and get some more free testing from them,” Heiniger said.
If it is clear, based on this first round of tests, that many areas in Trenton have high levels of PSAF chemicals, and that this contamination is a more widespread issue than originally believed, the town could be made a higher priority of the state for remediation of this issue.
“If there are other wells that show contamination, the town could map out where these are and see if there’s a pattern. The Maine DEP could be alerted, and the town of Trenton could be added to the list of communities in the tiered system the Maine DEP has set up for prioritizing funds to deal with this issue statewide,” PFT wrote in its proposal.
This issue has come to the forefront in this region after high levels of PFAS chemicals have been found in the water sources of multiple schools in the past few years. By taking this step, Trenton is making the safety of their residents and the cleanliness of their drinking water a priority.
“Trenton is going to be on the leading edge in this area,” Heiniger said. “This is a really great first step.”