Toxic water in Fairfield: Part one
Residents with private wells dealing with sky high levels of PFAS
FAIRFIELD, Maine (WABI) - We’ve heard a lot recently about PFAS, the water repellant chemicals were used in a variety of products dating back to the 1940s.
PFAS are being phased out after evidence showed exposure can lead to health problems.
But in one Maine town, dangerously high levels of PFAS are being found in dozens of wells.
Since August, at least 52 private wells tested in Fairfield show sky high levels of PFAS.
The forever chemicals as they’re called because they don’t break down, are also showing up in food.
Now residents are demanding answers as well as changes.
Joy Hollowell with part one of her special report on toxic water in Fairfield.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m walking dead.”
Penny Harkins is among dozens of Fairfield residents reeling from the discovery of alarming levels of PFAS in their well water. Harkins has lived at her residence for 40 years.
“I have been cooked, contaminated for over 40 years along with a lot of these people here,” says Harkins, gesturing to the group of residents gathered behind her for support. Harkins says her husband passed away in 2014 from a massive heart attack. According to his doctors, he had no pre-existing conditions.
“I babysat my little 20 month old grandson,” says Harkins. “I did not dare to put him in my bathtub.”
The issue first came to light in July of 2020, when the Maine Department of Agriculture tested retail milk from a local dairy farm. Unusually high levels of PFAS prompted the Department of Environmental Protection to check other nearby fields and then nearby wells, starting at the end of August. The first results came back in mid-September.
Lawrence and Penny Higgins had their well water tested in November.
The maximum current safety limit set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency is 70 parts per trillion.
“And we ended up with more than 1,800 parts per trillion,” says Lawrence Higgins.
Their neighbors also tested high.
“So that got us to wondering- well, we’re high and he’s high, how many others are high?” adds Penny Higgins.
Turns out- a lot.
“Our numbers are in the tens of thousands,” says Troy Reny. He and Ashley Gooldrup just purchased their home on Howe Road in January of 2020.
“It’s like we bought our dream home and in the past few months, it’s turned into a nightmare,” he says.
In fact, their entire road has among the highest levels of contamination in Fairfield.
“It was 18,000, yup,” says Susan Otis. She lives just a few doors down from Ashley and Troy.
Otis recalls watching human waste being spread on farm fields behind their home some 35 years ago. That sludge is identified as the source of the contaminated water.
“The value of our house is nothing, our land is nothing,” says Otis. “And we put pride into our home.” Otis says her husband is now battling bladder cancer.
Otis and the others were instructed not to drink or bathe in the water.
The state is installing filtration systems at affected homes. But for many residents, there’s concern these chemicals are also in the soil. The Higgins recently had their chicken eggs tested.
“And they came back, not surprisingly, with the PFOS and PFOA,” says Penny Higgins.
The Higgins have lived in their home for 27 years. “We’ve been feeding our animals this water, what are we doing to them? What have we done to our children? I mean, what have we done to us?”
The Higgins started a Facebook page called Fairfield Water Concerned Citizens. They’re now pushing for the state to require PFAS testing in every Maine well.
“Every person that has a drilled well has their water tested right now. And they’re told it’s safe to drink,” says Lawrence Higgins. “That’s a lie.”
There is evidence high levels of PFAS can lead to cancer and other health issues as well a decrease in how well the body responds to vaccines.
Fairfield’s water crisis caught the attention of national clean water activist Erin Brockovich. Hear from her as well as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the town of Fairfield in part two this special report. To view that, click here.
For more information on PFAS in Maine, log onto these websites:
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