The Presque Isle Utilities District's wastewater lagoons off Lathrop Road in Presque Isle. The organization will have to stop spreading wastewater sludge held in the lagoons after soil tests from its hayfields found PFOS chemcials above the state-set threshold. Credit: Anthony Brino | The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Four Presque Isle residents sent a public letter to the Presque Isle Utilities District and state government officials on Wednesday demanding the district address the presence of PFAS chemicals — substances known for their inability to break down and their link to adverse health effects — in the residents’ land and drinking water.

PFAS chemicals are a group of synthetic chemicals the EPA said may be linked to cancer. PFAS chemicals are colloquially known as “forever chemicals” because they are difficult to break down, and there is no known method to destroy them.

Members of the group accuse the Presque Isle Utilities District of negligently allowing the spreading of such chemicals in nearby fields to infect their nearby homes and drinking water. Calling for further action from the state, the letter was expected to be read in a Maine State Legislature committee meeting on Thursday.

The letter said that on Sept. 6, 2019, the Presque Isle Utilities District informed Dan White, Kate White, Eric Harvath and Nicole Michaud that the district was using biosolids from a waste treatment facility as a soil amendment on land near their homes.

A statement from the group said that the Whites’ farm borders a set of fields the Presque Isle Utilities District previously used to spread sludge from the sewer system. Around last fall, after the state found PFAS chemicals in fields used to spread the substance, officials began testing nearby homes for the chemicals.

The letter said that the combined level of forever chemicals was 82.2 parts per trillion in the water supply of the White family, and 75.8 parts per trillion in the home of Logan Harvath, the son of Eric Harvath. The group of residents found the results of the test “alarming” but said the utilities district informed them that the limits passed state regulations.

On Jan. 23, Gov. Janet Mills’ PFAS Task Force released a report advising that the DEP and Maine’s CDC apply the EPA advisory level of 70 parts per trillion to PFAS chemicals found in drinking water.

The residents are outraged about the presence of potentially dangerous substances in their homes and want the district to fix the problem immediately.

“The town has shown no concern at all,” Eric Harvath said. “We spend money to buy all our water at Walmart, and it shouldn’t be this way. At a minimum, the town should be supplying us all with clean water.”

Eric Harvath accused the chemicals of being linked to the early deaths of several of his pets from kidney failure as well as causing him “bad health issues” that ceased when he stopped consuming water from his home.

In their letter and related press release, the group compared Maine environmental policy — especially on drinking water — unfavorably with stricter regulations in the neighboring states of New Hampshire and Vermont.

Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Portland-based environmental group, said that the PFAS levels the district found were more than four times the level permitted in Vermont and nearly four times higher than that allowed in New Hampshire.

“Had these families lived in neighboring states, the government would be recommending immediate action to protect them from these harmful chemicals,” MacRoy said. “Instead, Maine officials have tried to just falsely reassure this community that there is no problem and the water is safe to drink based on outdated science.”

The group’s letter was expected to be read during a public briefing on the PFAS Task Force recommendation before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee in the Maine State Legislature at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

Presque Isle Utilities District Superintendent Ross McQuade said the Utilities District supports the group’s efforts to bring the issue to state authorities. He said the district will continue to work with the state, especially the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, on the issue.

“We have yet to resolve that issue,” McQuade said. “We are still considering it and trying to figure out what the proper approach is.”

He said all of the wells tested in the area the group lived in were currently within the EPA guideline level of 70 parts per trillion of PFAS chemicals.