TRENTON — Trenton residents may have access to free well-water testing thanks to a grant from Defend Our Health.
The grassroots organization based in Portland works to “create a world where all people are thriving with equal access to safe food and drinking water, healthy homes and products that are toxic-free and climate-friendly,” according to its website.
The grant comes after well-water testing done at the Trenton Elementary School in 2017 found levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which belong to a group of man-made chemicals commonly called PFAS.
Deemed “forever chemicals,” the compounds do not break down easily and are found in nearly everything, from nonstick cookware to firefighting foam. The chemicals have been linked to several health issues, including cancer.
Because of the school’s test results, priority for the free well-water testing will be given to residents whose homes are within 1 to 3 miles of the school and those who have never had their water tested before.
Defend Our Health is also calling for legislative action.
At a Jan. 28 virtual press conference hosted by Defend Our Health, Maine lawmakers, public health experts and concerned residents called for action in addressing PFAS throughout the state.
Defend Our Health Deputy Director Patrick MacRoy called on the Legislature to “pass a comprehensive sweep of PFAS bills this year.”
This call to action comes after Governor Janet Mills formed a state task force in March 2019 to address the state’s PFAS levels and provide recommendations for how to mitigate the contamination.
Trenton parent Courtney Schusheim spoke at the conference and expressed her concern for the levels of PFAS found at the elementary school.
“I’m here to ask for strong state action to solve the PFAS contamination problems that we have across our state,” she said.
Currently, the state of Maine uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lifetime health advisory levels of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) as its standard for what level of PFAS contamination is acceptable. Levels at the Trenton school came in well under that limit.
Schusheim addressed her concern that this maximum acceptable level is higher than what nearby states, including Vermont, use.
The elementary school is working to address the PFAS levels, Principal Mike Zboray told The American. According to the January 2020 report compiled by the Maine PFAS Task Force, the school’s combined levels of PFOA, PFOS and PFNA (which are all part of the PFAS group) was 33.9 ppt.
The water sample was collected by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which initially approached school officials in 2017 to see if they wanted the water system tested, Zboray said.
Following results of the testing, Zboray had the water tested again in 2020 to observe any changes in the levels, which he reported had not changed.
To establish a plan to address the PFAS levels, a flow meter was installed at the school last summer to “develop a proper system for the amount of water used [at the school],” Zboray explained.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, an accurate reading could not be determined until students were allowed back into the school at the end of September.
“Since the start of school, we collected good data and I am awaiting a bid to share with the School Board so they can decide what they would like to do,” Zborary said.
The school uses Norlen’s Water Treatment, LLC in Orrington for its water testing service.