LIMESTONE, Maine — Researchers are asking residents in the former Loring Air Force Base area as part of their investigation into the spread of PFAS chemicals how they have been using the local water supply.
The U.S. Air Force partnered with global company Wood Environment and Infrastructure nearly a decade ago to work toward removing the PFAS chemical Aqueous Film Forming Foams, or AFFF, at active and closed bases across the country, including Loring. The chemical was used to put out fires after plane crashes and during firefighter training sessions.
PFAS substances, also known as “forever chemicals,” have been found in farm soil and animals and in the state’s wild deer herd, among other places in Maine. It is the state’s largest growing health concern, and the Air Force wants to determine whether people in the Limestone area are at risk.
Initial investigations that began in 2015 found non-dangerous levels of fire foam chemical in 21 of 22 sites of groundwater, surface water, soil and sediment and within some fish tissue at the former base.
Wood’s researchers have not found any in private wells or the local water supply thus far, but plan to collect enough data to determine the full risk to the natural environment and the people who have used those resources for decades, Amy Quintin, a human health risk assessor for Wood.
Researchers will interview residents of Limestone, Caswell and Caribou to find out the community’s main uses for the water supply near Loring, which could include recreational swimming and fishing, farming and drinking water from private wells.
“We want to know if kids have waded or swam in a stream or lake or if farmers have used the water for irrigation,” Quintin said, during a public meeting at Limestone Community School Wednesday.
Research sites will encompass the waterways on the more than 9,000-acre former base, including Greenlaw Brook, Limestone Stream, Little Madawaska River, Chapman Pit, Durepo Reservoir, Butterfield Brook and Malabeam Lake.
Community members familiar with Loring were glad to see investigations underway, even as they voiced concerns about potential PFAS spread to the drinking water supply.
Limestone resident Amy Beil served at Loring from 1979 to 1984, along with her late husband, Bill Beil. She lives within a mile of the former base and works at Defense Finance and Accounting Service, one of numerous businesses at Loring Commerce Center.
The Loring Development Authority created the Commerce Center after the base closed in 1994, hoping to spur industrial and business development. As part of their research, Wood will speak with LDA employees to better understand if PFAS might affect that region of Loring.
“I have a private well, so I really just want to know whether there’s any [PFAS] in the water supply,” Beil said.
Public water safety also was a concern for Chuck Kelley, who is on the Limestone Water and Sewer District’s board of trustees. The district’s wastewater treatment facility tests water from the vicinity of the former base.
Kelley wanted to know if there was a way to protect the health and safety of employees, since the treatment plant is next to Greenlaw Brook and pulls in a lot of groundwater, especially during the spring snow and ice melt.
Peter Baker, project manager for the Loring PFAS investigation, said that his team’s eventual goal is to know not just where the fire foam chemical exists but how far it has spread.
Though the current plan is to collect more than 1,300 samples of groundwater, surface water, stormwater, sediment, soils and fish tissues, Wood’s findings could lead them to unexpected areas of the base.
If the team finds levels of PFAS that exceed the federal drinking water standards of 70 parts per trillion or Maine’s interim standard of 20 parts per trillion, Wood and the Air Force would put out an emergency notice to the surrounding communities and move their investigation toward areas of potential spread.
Wood researchers will sample on Loring land through fall 2023, release their initial findings to the public in summer 2023 and hold another public meeting in Limestone. They will then do a feasibility study on potential PFAS removal methods, which they expect to release in early 2025.
In the meantime, the team encourages nearby landowners to contact Wood or the Air Force with questions, concerns or information related to uses of private and public water. Contacts are Wood at Loring.RI@woodplc.com or contact Val de la Fuente, acting manager of the former Loring base, at 210-347-0078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.