The new lower legal limit for PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals,” in drinking water means there has been a large increase in the number of locations that will need filtration systems installed, a state official says.

Gov. Janet Mills signed a law that lowers the legal limit for PFAS in drinking water to 20 parts per trillion. Previously, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection had been following the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.

The number of Maine households on the list to have carbon filters installed was around 70 under the EPA’s standard and is now up to about 110 households, according to David Madore, the deputy commissioner and director of communications for the state agency.

The DEP investigation in the area started after milk from Tozier Dairy Farm in Fairfield was found to have levels that greatly exceeded the state’s previous limit of 210 parts per trillion. The investigation is ongoing, and now includes areas of Fairfield, Benton, Oakland and Unity Township.

In June, the department tested 46 residential wells for the first time in areas of Fairfield, Benton and Oakland. Of those 46, there were 16 wells found to have levels of PFAS above the 20 parts per trillion limit. Four of the wells tested do not have final results processed yet.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a category that includes thousands of specific chemicals. They are often called “forever chemicals” because they contain chemical bonds that are very strong and do not break down easily in the environment, or in the body.

A man-made chemical created in the 1940s, they are used in a wide range of consumer products because they are both oil and water repellent. PFAS have been used in carpeting, fabric, food packaging and were used in firefighting foam at military bases, airports and training facilities.

They are also linked to a variety of negative health effects, including elevated cholesterol, thyroid disease, damage to the liver and kidneys, effects on fertility and low birth weight.

In June the DEP also tested 41 households that already had filter systems installed. Most of the filter systems have dual filters, so the department tests the water before the first filter, in between the two filters and after the second filter, to ensure that the system is working as it should.

This testing occurs before residents are told they can drink the water again, so while a household may have a filter installed, if the DEP has not tested it, residents should still not drink the water.

In the meantime, if a household has PFAS levels over the new legal limit, the DEP will provide an alternative source of drinking water. In Fairfield, that has meant the town has assisted with handout of bottled water for residents — a need that doubled with the lower legal limit.

And as the investigation continues, Fairfield is also looking into expanding the town’s public drinking water system to reach affected residents. The town recently hired Dirigo Engineering to assist with the project.

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