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Federal agency kicks off public health study of PFAS contamination in Fairfield

Forever Chemicals Sludge
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, hay dries after a recent cut at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine. The farm has been forced to shut down after sludge spread on the farm land was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk.

A federal health agency met with Fairfield residents this week as part of an ongoing review of PFAS contamination in the community.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will evaluate concentrations of so-called "forever chemicals" in samples collected from Fairfield's drinking water, soil and food sources, such as deer and fish.

A Fairfield resident petitioned the toxic substances agency last summer to help the town understand its exposure.

The town has emerged as a contamination hotspot in Maine, and the state has issued do-not eat advisories for both fish and deer meat in the Fairfield region within the last year.

"If we know people are consuming that, that's going to help us tailor our assessment of how much PFAS people may be exposed to," said Tarah Somers, the agency's director for the New England region.

The agency will use the information to help Fairfield residents understand how these exposures are affecting their own health. And the agency will recommend ways that the community can avoid harmful PFAS exposures.

"It's our way of communicating with the community, if we feel that there are potential health effects from this exposure within a community," Somers said. "And then we will make recommendations. Often those recommendations will talk about how to reduce exposures for community members."

This will be the first time that the agency has assessed the public health impacts of PFAS contamination for entire Maine community, Somers said, though it has done similar reviews throughout the country. In 2021, ATSDR did study the health implications of contaminants found in several anadromous fish species in in the Penobscot River, at the request of the Penobscot Nation.

Somers said she's hopeful her agency will finish its Fairfield review by late next year.

Updated: September 19, 2022 at 10:57 AM EDT
This story was updated to reflect that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has studied the health implications of contaminants found in fish in the Penobscot River, at the request of the Penobscot Nation.