Cattle and barns are shown Tuesday at Tozier Dairy Farm along Ohio Hill Road in Fairfield. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

While a dairy farm in Fairfield has had its products taken off the shelves since June following the discovery of high levels of so-called “forever chemicals” in its milk, a nearby resident says she recently found out her well water has been contaminated with the same chemicals.

A test conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry found that milk from Tozier Dairy Farm, located on the Ohio Hill Road, had levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, also known as PFOS, that were higher than the limit of 210 parts per trillion set by the state.

And after the Department of Environmental Protection conducted a test in September of the well water on Jerri-Lee Cookson’s property three miles away on the same road, officials discovered that Cookson’s water also contained such high levels of PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, that she was advised to stop consuming it.

 

The contaminated milk was discovered during the department’s second round of retail milk testing in February, according to Nancy McBrady, director of the bureau of agriculture. 

“There was a result for a retailer that was about 60 parts per trillion, we retested it, it was confirmed … and we then worked with that retailer to see what producers had been in that sample,” McBrady during a phone interview Monday. “And so by working with the retailer, we narrowed it down to a couple of potential sources and we tested those sources and that’s how we found the Tozier Farm.”

While the investigation into the Tozier Farm is ongoing, Jerri-Lee Cookson, 65, has been advised by the DEP not to drink the water from the private well on her property.

Cookson, who has lived in her home on the Ohio Hill Road for around 12-years, was contacted by DEP in September and was told that the department was investigating contamination nearby “I got a phone call out of the blue from DEP,” Cookson said. “It said that they wanted to test my water because they had reason to believe there was contamination.”

Cookson also received a letter from DEP that was dated Sept. 18.

“The department is currently conducting an environmental investigation in the area,” the letter read. “And our recent phase in the investigation includes sampling residential water supplies in your neighborhood for certain environmental contaminants.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the group of man-made “forever chemicals” known collectively as PFAS, has a limit of 70 parts per trillion in drinking water, set by the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection. PFOS and PFOA are two synthetic chemicals that are referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short.

According to the DEP’s results dated Oct. 9, Cookson’s water contained levels of PFOA at 394 parts per trillion and PFOS at 170 parts per trillion.

“It’s undrinkable,” Cookson said. “I have to buy my water now. I can take a shower with it but I can’t use it for cooking or watering the garden.”

State officials could not confirm Tuesday whether the contamination at the Tozier Farm is directly linked to the contamination of Cookson’s well.

“I have a lot of questions but I’m not getting many answers,” Cookson said. “I need to know what I need to do on this end here. I’ve been consuming this water with these chemicals for so long and now all of a sudden, I can’t drink it.” 

Milk with PFOS levels of 210 parts per trillion or higher are prohibited from being sold commercially. After tracing the contamination back to the Tozier Farm, DACF tested the milk three more times which yielded results of 12,700; 14,900; and 32,200 parts per trillion.

Products from the Tozier Farm were pulled off shelves in June and despite the high numbers of chemicals in the milk, in July state officials said that the public was not at risk because of how diluted the farm’s contribution to the milk sample was.

“Retail samples are a conglomeration of lots and lots of producers, so there is a dilution factor,” McBrady said. “The Toziers are a very small farm, (with) fewer than 50 cattle were being milked at any one time. So they literally were I think less than 1% of the milk that was being contributed to the retailer. So the fact that they were less than 1% and the rest of the 99% was coming from sources that didn’t have this PFOS contamination. And, the sample they contributed there was enough of a dilution that although their numbers were extraordinarily high, the milk that was being consumed was at a level that was well below the state limit.”

PFAS were developed in the 1940s and became widely popular in household use for the chemicals’ abilities to resist water, stains and grease. These chemicals were used in products such as carpeting, fabric, clothing, food packaging, pots and pans as well as in firefighting foams used on military bases, airports and firefighting training facilities.

The chemicals have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because their bond is so strong, they don’t easily break down in the environment or in the body.

According to a fact sheet from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, almost everyone has some level of these chemicals in their bodies.

Studies of these chemicals have shown that exposure can cause health issues such as elevated cholesterol, thyroid disease, damage to the liver and kidneys, effects on fertility and low birth weight.

Other studies have shown links to PFAS and the elevated risk of certain cancers.

“The unfortunate thing is PFAS chemicals end up in our wastewater streams because of all of the products that contain PFOS and PFOA have been utilized for many decades … so we have decades worth of this stuff that has been put down drains and ended up in our septic systems and ended up in our wastewater treatment systems,” McBrady said.

“So here we are many decades later finally understanding that these are very strong chemicals that don’t degrade, that’s why they’re called forever chemicals, and research is emerging that there may be health impacts due to them,” he continued. “And there is research as well that is demonstrating that these chemicals not only stay around but they bind themselves to whatever is grown in the soils or that is in the water that is then consumed by an animal or a human.” 

A vehicle passes a home at Tozier Dairy Farm along Ohio Hill Road in Fairfield on Monday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The high levels of PFOS in the milk from the Tozier Farm is most likely due to the use of sludge for agricultural purposes, according to McBrady.

“There is an established history of the licensed application of sludges at the Tozier Farm,” McBrady said. “So that really does appear to be a major factor when accounting for this contamination that’s been found at the farm.” 

Sludge is treated wastewater solids that can be spread on soil instead of using fertilizer. According to McBrady, the use of sludge is an approved method in Maine and other states and can have organic benefits. 

David Madore, acting commissioner for the DEP, said that the investigation into the farm contamination is far from over.

At this time, the Department continues to investigate the observed levels of PFAS compounds in the drinking water supply both (along) Ohio Hill Road and at other properties in this vicinity,” said Madore in an email Tuesday night. “Since we are in the midst of an ongoing investigation, it would be premature to definitively state what the source of the exceedance of the EPA Health Advisory is.”

Cattle barns, a residence and other structures that are part of the Tozier Dairy Farm are shown Tuesday above traffic along state Route 104 in Fairfield. The farm is located along Ohio Hill Road. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Madore said the early samples in the investigation came from testing the soil in the fields near the farm, testing feedstocks for the herd, testing manure and testing surface water utilized by the farm to water the herd.

According to Madore, the DEP has now been testing wells it suspects might be at risk of contamination based on the information gathered in the investigation’s conceptual site model. 

“The residential wells tested represent ones identified as being at greatest potential risk based on our current CSM (conceptual site model,)” Madore said. “From these results, we continue to refine our CSM to ensure we are sampling other residential wells that may also be at risk. We will continue this process until we believe we have identified and sampled the residential wells at risk.” 

 Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said she was told about the farm’s contamination and nearby well testing on Oct. 14 after she spoke with David Burns, the director of the DEP’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management.

“The biggest thing is that since we were notified we have been actively communicating with folks like DEP and the Department of Agriculture,” Flewelling said during a phone interview Tuesday. “We at the town office have been very committed to ensuring that all of our residents have access to safe and clean drinking water and we’re seeking potential resources for people if they’re waiting for their wells to be tested.”

 

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