Nearly 80 wells in Fairfield, Benton and Unity Township have tested for high levels of "forever chemicals." Credit: Tony Gutierrez / AP

An investigation into “forever chemicals” contaminating well water in Fairfield has expanded into two neighboring towns.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has tested 28 wells in Benton and 15 in Unity Township. Of those, 14 in Benton and five in Unity Township had levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds in excess of 70 parts per trillion, the health advisory level set by the federal government, according to the Waterville Morning Sentinel.

That comes amid a sprawling investigation into well contamination in Fairfield, where 60 of 214 wells tested so far have shown levels above 70 parts per trillion, the newspaper reported.

The investigation began there after milk from Tozier Dairy Farm had levels greater than 210 parts per trillion, the maximum threshold allowed by the state.

In response, Fairfield is looking into expanding its public water system to those with the affected wells, while the state is providing them with bottled water, according to the Sentinel.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds first came into use in the 1940s, and were widely used for their water-, grease- and stain-resistant properties. But the chemicals are not easily broken down in either the environment or human body, which is why they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.”

Exposure to them is linked to increased risk of health problems and certain cancers.

In March, attorney Brian Mahaney filed a class-action lawsuit against Sappi North America on behalf of Nathan Saunders and others in Somerset County who have been exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds.

The lawsuit accuses Sappi’s Somerset Mill in Skowhegan of being the source of the contamination, claiming that the chemicals came from biosolids in the mill’s wastewater treatment plant that were spread as sludge.

A spokesperson for the papermaker said the company “strongly disputes” the accusation that “forever chemicals” contaminating Fairfield-area wells originated from its Skowhegan mill.