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Despite Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Trenton School’s Drinking Water, State Failing to Require Action

Environmental Health Strategy Center
02.04.2020
Category:
News Releases

High levels of toxic PFAS in school drinking water would be illegal in Vermont and New Hampshire, pointing to need for health-protective standard in Maine

TRENTON—School district officials confirmed this week that they have not taken action to reduce high levels of dangerous “forever chemicals” in Trenton Elementary School’s drinking water, because the state of Maine has failed to enact a health-protective drinking water standard for toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

“School officials in Trenton are unfortunately just following the state’s directive—or rather, lack of one—to do nothing when dangerous levels of PFAS are discovered in children’s drinking water,” said Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Portland- and Bangor-based Environmental Health Strategy Center. “The Governor can and must introduce legislation to adopt a truly health-protective drinking water standard, which other New England states have already done. Why is it that New Hampshire children are better protected from ‘forever chemicals’ in their drinking water than are children in Maine?”

Total PFAS levels measured at 33.9 parts per trillion (ppt) in 2017 in Trenton Elementary School’s water. The superintendent of Mount Desert Island Regional School System-AOS 91, to which Trenton Elementary belongs, confirmed in an email to the Strategy Center that the district’s actions since receiving those results have been “aligned solely to Maine compliance standards as required.”

The levels reported from Trenton would exceed both the Vermont and New Hampshire standards, and also exceed proposed standards in Massachusetts as well as those from all the other states with revised standards. Vermont would place a “do not drink” order and require treatment if the levels in Trenton were in a Vermont school.  

Chart: Comparison of Levels to Allowable Limits of Nearby States

 

PFAS Total

PFOA + PFOS

PFOA

PFOS

PFHpA

PFHxS

PFNA

Trenton Elementary

33.9

24

16.6

7.4

ND

ND

9.9

NH Standard

N/A

N/A

12

15

N/A

18

11

VT/MA Standard

20

N/A

Inc.

Inc.

Inc.

Inc.

Inc.

ME/USEPA

N/A

70

Inc.

Inc.

N/A

N/A

N/A

Bolded values reflect exceedances of a nearby state’s standard.
“ND” means not detected
“N/A” means the standard does not include the particular chemical.
“Inc.” means the total standard includes the particular chemical.
Note: Vermont’s standard is based on the sum of five chemicals, while USEPA and ME applies to the sum of two chemicals. Massachusetts’ standard currently applies to groundwater and has been proposed for drinking water.

Yet, Maine has failed to adopt a state-specific and health-protective maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFAS, leaving Maine children, both at home and in school, exposed to levels of the dangerous chemicals that pose a risk to their health and future development.

To date, the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) has relied on the Trump Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) out-of-date standard of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for two PFAS compounds, which independent and federal government scientists have stated is too high to protect human health.

Other New England states, including Vermont and New Hampshire, have adopted state-specific MCLs for PFAS in drinking water in response to the robust science demonstrating a widespread risk to human health and the failure of the federal EPA to act to protect the public.

These so-called “forever chemicals” never break down in the human body or in the environment. Linked to cancer, thyroid and liver dysfunction, and harm to children’s brain development, PFAS exposure poses a particular threat to young children, who are exposed to disproportionately higher levels of the dangerous chemicals by body weight.

PFAS are used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as nonstick coatings on cookware and water- and grease-resistant coatings on food packaging, outerwear, and furniture. These chemicals are also used in many firefighting foams, which then contaminate soil and water.

Potentially unsafe levels of PFAS in drinking water are a concern throughout the state, although most public water supplies remain untested. Some of those public water supplies in Maine that have been tested were found to contain toxic PFAS at levels that exceeded or nearly exceeded nearby states’ standards, including at the elementary school in Trenton.

The test results from Trenton were included in a report from the Governor’s PFAS Task Force, which was recently released. Since the levels were not considered elevated in Maine, no action, including notification, would have been required.

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The Environmental Health Strategy Center works to create a world where all people are healthy and thriving, with equal access to safe food and drinking water, and products that are toxic-free and climate-friendly.