A Massachusetts company that sells bottled water in Maine and other New England states is not pulling its water from store shelves even though New Hampshire environmental officials recommended that pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants refrain from drinking or cooking with Spring Hill Water.

The water does not violate federal, Maine or Massachusetts health standards, but New Hampshire has stricter guidelines f0r the contaminant, a group of chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. New Hampshire started random testing of bottled water this summer.

A company spokeswoman said a new filtration system that was installed at Spring Hill Water in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on July 22 should eliminate PFAS from Spring Hill’s water. In Maine, Spring Hill is sold at Cumberland Farms, Market Basket, Whole Foods and other stores.

New Hampshire developed a strict standard for PFAS as the chemicals are coming under increased scrutiny for public health concerns worldwide. Maine and Massachusetts use the less stringent federal standard for allowable levels of contamination, although the Mills administration convened a task force this year that is considering whether to lower the threshold as New Hampshire has done. The Maine task force is not only examining PFAS standards for drinking water, but also for biosolids, wastewater treatment plants and milk produced at Maine dairies.

Used for decades in everything from nonstick cookware to firefighting foam, PFAS are long-lasting chemicals linked to cancer, thyroid disruption and reproductive and immunological changes in lab animals. The chemicals linger in the environment and the human body for decades, becoming so pervasive that they have been showing up in the blood of humans and animals around the world.

While some forms of the chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States, other varieties still help make frying pans nonstick, carpeting stain-resistant, jackets shed water and food packaging repel grease.


In addition to finding contamination around several military or industrial sites in Maine, a heavily contaminated dairy farm in Arundel has raised concerns about more widespread contamination on agricultural fields that were fertilized with sludge from sewage treatment plants that was unknowingly laced with PFAS.

For drinking water, the federal safety standard is 70 parts per trillion, while New Hamsphire’s law is 15 parts per trillion for some of the PFAS chemicals and 12 parts per trillion for other PFAS chemicals.

Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of Maine-based Environmental Health Strategy Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, said emerging research is pointing to increased risk for PFAS in water supplies, linking the chemicals to testicular and kidney cancer, and immune system disorders, among other health concerns.

“The 70 parts per million standard is already outdated at this point,” MacRoy said, even though the Environmental Protection Agency issued the standard fairly recently, in 2016. “Most of the recent research supports lower levels because they are finding health impacts at lower levels.”

Nancy Sterling, spokeswoman for Spring Hill Water, said the company met the existing federal safe drinking standards, and the new filtration system should eliminate all PFAS. Sterling said after the new system was installed, the company conducted internal tests, although the results are not yet completed.

“All of our product, starting on July 22, has gone through the new filtration system, which should eliminate all PFAS from the water,” Sterling said.

There is no federal or state requirement that public or private water supplies in Maine test for PFAS, although the state has done voluntary testing on 34 public water supplies since 2013, detecting PFAS in three systems. The Maine DEP requires sewage treatment plants to test for three specific varieties of the chemicals – PFOS, PFOA and PFBS – before the treated sludge can be applied to farms as fertilizer or distributed as compost.

The Portland Water District, which serves the greater Portland area, conducted limited, voluntary testing for PFAS in drinking water twice, most recently in 2013. The tests found trace amounts in the water in one test, but no detectable levels in the 2013 tests, district officials said.

MacRoy said about half of all drinking water in Maine is served by private wells, which are mostly exempt from federal and state drinking water regulations. He said PFAS tests for private wells would be expensive for homeowners, another challenge that must be addressed.

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