Read the full article by Erin Rhoda (Bangor Daily News)

“Chemicals associated with serious illnesses have been discovered in the public drinking water systems of Skowhegan, Oakland and Fryeburg serving more than 4,500 households and businesses, in the latest development in what one expert called a ‘universal crisis.’

The public water supplies in Skowhegan and Oakland continue to deliver water to a combined 3,735 service connections — and many more individual people. That’s because the levels of so-called forever chemicals have not exceeded a temporary limit set by the Maine Legislature for PFAS in drinking water, according to Maine Water Company, the public water utility for those towns.

Maine Water announced the results on its website, and will include the findings in its annual reports. But it was not required to notify Skowhegan and Oakland customers directly because the levels didn’t exceed Maine’s current enforceable drinking water standard of 20 parts PFAS per trillion parts water, even though the federal government has cautioned that people could see negative health effects from even lower concentrations of some specific compounds.

In Skowhegan, PFAS were present at 2 parts per trillion. In Oakland the chemicals were detected at 7.63 parts per trillion. Both water supplies were tested April 7.

A well serving Fryeburg, where there are 839 service connections, was removed from operation in May because PFAS chemicals were discovered at a concentration higher than what Maine currently allows, Maine Water said. Fryeburg customers received a notice this week from the Fryeburg Water Company, which contracts with Maine Water for its services, informing them that the standard had been exceeded. PFAS levels were at 32.85 parts per trillion.

PFAS, which stands for per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, have been detected in a growing number of private wells throughout Maine and have been linked to health problems such as kidney cancer and thyroid disease. But finding the chemicals in public drinking supplies will present new challenges that are only beginning to be understood.

The results in Skowhegan and Oakland are complicated by the fact that Maine’s drinking water standard may change. What’s more, the federal government has warned that people should avoid even lower, near-zero levels of some PFAS chemicals.

In 2021, Maine became one of only a dozen states to establish an enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS. A state law signed by Gov. Janet Mills required all public water systems and other types of facilities to sample for PFAS by the end of this year, as Maine Water did. It is therefore not yet known how much of the public drinking water across Maine is contaminated. Testing is ongoing, and many different utilities service Maine communities.

The Maine law set an interim standard of 20 parts per trillion for six different PFAS chemicals, alone or in combination, and it directed that a final rule on the standard be in place by June 1, 2024.

But on June 15, the federal government announced different and very low interim health advisory levels for four PFAS compounds that are not enforceable. For PFOA and PFOS chemicals in particular, ‘some negative health effects may occur at concentrations that are near zero and below our ability to detect at this time,’ the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated. It set the advisory level at 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS.

One of those compounds, PFOA, was discovered in both Skowhegan and Oakland’s public drinking water systems at levels that are higher than the unenforceable federal advisory and lower than the enforceable state limit.

In Skowhegan, the chemical detected at 2 parts per trillion was entirely PFOA. In Oakland the PFOA level was 4.21 parts per trillion, and a different chemical, PFHpA, made up 3.42 parts per trillion, according to Maine Water.” …