Penny and Lawrence Higgins are shown in 2021 with their chickens at Penny’s Alpaca Farm store at 4 Currier Road in Fairfield. The chickens have been enclosed in a coop and are no longer allowed to roam freely since eggs have tested positive for PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.” Their well water also was found to have high levels of PFAS. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

More than half of detectable “forever chemicals” that are present in drinking water are not monitored by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and as a consequence authorities will continue to underreport the prevalence of toxic chemicals in water, according to a study commissioned by a leading environmental group.

As part of the study, researchers collected samples of drinking water in 16 states, including Maine — finding the highest concentration of forever chemicals of all the states was in samples collected in Fairfield.

The study was conducted by the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, which released the results this week and touted the study as a peer-reviewed analysis. The council, which collaborated with a laboratory testing company called Eurofins, said researchers found significant levels of forever chemicals when testing for a larger variety of chemicals. Those chemicals are not detected under the more restrictive testing protocols now used by the EPA, the council said in a news release issued Wednesday.

The chemicals are commonly referred to as PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, and are a group of man-made chemicals created in the 1940s. They have been used in many consumer products because they are oil and water resistant, but have been linked to health effects including testicular and kidney cancer.

“Current methods for testing and responding to PFAS in drinking water are insufficient to protect people from toxic forever chemical pollution,” said Anna Reade, a senior scientist for the council and one of the researchers for the study.

Researchers used an expanded analysis developed by Eurofins to test for 70 different PFAS, and compared that to results using the EPA monitoring program, which includes 29 PFAS. The study included 44 samples from the 16 states, including 21 samples from public drinking water systems and 23 from private wells.


Thirty samples were found to have PFAS present and the study found significant levels of the 41 chemicals included in the Eurofins test that are not included in the EPA testing program.

Of the 30 samples with PFAS, each had at least one type of chemical that would not have been tested for under the EPA protocols.

“The study predicts that ongoing national monitoring programs will significantly underreport the presence of the toxic chemicals in drinking water,” the council said in the release.

One chemical, perfluoropropionic acid, or PFPra, was the most common chemical, found in 24 samples, but is not included in the EPA testing.

The study concluded that there are gaps in testing capabilities that must be addressed and there’s a need for further research into certain kinds of PFAS.

The broader testing done as part of the study “still represents just a small fraction of the thousands of chemicals in this class,” the study said. “Therefore, a broad spectrum test that captures more of the unknown fraction of PFAS present would still be a valuable complement to targeted analyses. ”


Attempts this week to reach a spokesperson for the EPA and for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to comment on the study’s findings were not successful.

Fairfield residents Lawrence and Penny Higgins had been testing the water in their private well for years to ensure the water was safe for themselves and their family, the pair said in the council’s release.

But none of those tests told them about the PFAS in their water until the Maine Department of Environmental Protection tested their water three years ago — meaning they have likely been drinking the contaminated water for years.

“We felt like our hearts were blown out of our chests,” the two said. “Our well water and many others in Fairfield are contaminated with PFAS higher than any other place in the country.”

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