Union public drinking water system takes well offline after testing high for PFAS

A well-served EU citizen connected to the public drinking water system has been taken offline after tests showed high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often dubbed ‘forever chemicals’.

The well operated a total of 19 days in 2022 and was not used in 2021 or 2020, according to the Maine Water Co., which supplies water to cities throughout Maine, including the 100 outlets in Union. The well-served residents before 2020.

Maine Water does not know the source of the PFAS contamination for the Depot Street groundwater well, which is one of several wells serving the Knox County community, spokesman Dan Meaney said. It is deployed during the summer peak load and was operational between July 22 and August 9 of this year.

On August 17, samples taken from the Depot Street well and three other wells that supply the water system showed that only the Depot Street well had detectable levels of PFAS.

At 154 parts per trillion, the results far exceeded the state’s interim standard of 20 parts per trillion for PFAS in drinking water. Beginning August 9, public water in the Union will only come from sources that have no detectable levels of PFAS, Meaney said.

The contaminated well provided about 21 percent of the water for the system when it was operational this summer.

PFAS are a class of chemicals that have been used in products such as non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing and footwear, and food packaging for decades. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, there is high confidence that PFAS exposure in adults is associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer, decreased infant and fetal growth, and decreased ability to fight disease and respond to vaccines.

There is moderate confidence in associations between PFAS and an increased risk of breast cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease and other conditions. The organization recommends that people with a history of “elevated exposure” have their blood tested for PFAS.

In Union, Maine Water found three specific PFAS compounds above the interim standard: PFHpA at 29.3 parts per trillion, PFOS at 43.2 parts per trillion, and PFOA at 64.5 parts per trillion.

The Depot Street well was tested for the first time under a new law requiring all public water systems to be tested for PFAS by the end of the year.

Only one other public water system serving a community has previously recorded PFAS levels above Maine’s standard. It was located in Fryeburg, according to a list of PFAS findings maintained by the state’s drinking water program.

Maine Water is awaiting results from a second round of testing of the Union well in the first week of September. The results are published on his website.

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