There are approximately 700 sites across the state that are licensed to accept sludge for disposal. There is new concern that those sites could be leaching toxic substances into nearby drinking water and farmland.
We’ve already seen some instances that are troubling. Contaminated deer meat was found in the Fairfield area last November during hunting season. And an organic farm in Unity was forced to pull products from store shelves last week after tests revealed high levels of “forever chemicals” in the farm’s soil, water and produce.
More and more contamination due to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, collectively known as PFAS and nicknamed “forever chemicals,” has been discovered across the state. The group of synthetic chemicals has been dubbed forever chemicals because they persist in the environment and in human bodies. These chemicals, which were created in the 1940s, never break down, and have been linked to numerous health problems.
Contamination due to PFAS has been found in more than 244 locations in Maine, including at low levels in drinking water at Trenton Elementary School, in higher concentrations in soil on Pleasant Street in Blue Hill and in sewage sludge around the state.
The chemicals have been used for decades in just about every imaginable application, from waterproofing clothing, to waxing skis and pizza boxes, to making non-stick frying pans, to creating the foam for fighting fires.
These chemicals are particularly useful not only because they reduce the surface tension of water, but also because they are stable and degrade slowly. While that’s good to make pans not stick and carpets resist stains, it’s not good for humans nor for the environment.
The Portland Press Herald has reported that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has started to search for these chemicals across Maine, but it is unlikely that the state will be able to move fast enough to contain the existing damage.
The Maine DEP has created a map (https://tinyurl.com/2p98rksp )showing the location of its past and present licensed sludge disposal facilities. Those who live near the sites do not have to wait for the state government to step in and can take it upon themselves to test soil or well water for these chemicals. If the results come back over Maine’s limit for PSAS, the DEP will reimburse homeowners for the cost of the test, which will run between $250 and $500.
While there are no licensed sludge disposal sites on Mount Desert Island, licenses have been given over the last four decades to sites in Deer Isle and Stonington, as well as Penobscot, Bucksport, Blue Hill, East Orland and Gouldsboro. Not all sites are active now.
Over the years, licenses were given to landowners who operate farms and to people growing hay for animal feed, thereby potentially contributing to the proliferation of these chemicals in places where they may not have existed.
Studies have shown that elevated exposure to PFAS can lead to increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, birth defects, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.
We urge residents to look at the map and consider having water or soil tested. Individual blood testing is also an option for those concerned with the levels of these chemicals in the bloodstream.
Only time will tell just how widespread this problem is, but the more information that can be collected, the faster the response time can be.