A North Monmouth manufacturing is testing for PFAS.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins tours Tex Tech Industries in North Monmouth on Aug. 13, 2020. The company is paying for well testing and bottled water for neighbors after recent testing found "forever chemical" levels exceeding state standards. Credit: Courtesy of Sen. Susan Collins' office

MONMOUTH, Maine — A central Maine textile company is testing the wells of neighbors and offering bottled water after testing found concentrations of “forever chemicals” in the area that exceed state standards.

The Tex Tech Industries manufacturing site in North Monmouth was found to have 300 parts per trillion of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in 2018, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. That was 15 times greater than the state’s interim drinking water standard of 20 parts per trillion set last year.

The company has tested some nearby wells for certain chemicals since 1990 under an agreement with the state. An initial PFAS test came in 2018 because the chemicals were known as a potential contaminant of concern used in textiles, a DEP spokesperson said. Tex Tech makes coating and waterproof products, both of which are associated with PFAS.

But Maine’s recent fight against PFAS, which are increasingly being found in agricultural land and water, led to a recent round of testing that found high concentrations in more than two dozen wells. It shows how companies may be tasked with mitigation while the state pushes for both accountability and understanding of the true sources of the chemicals.

The situation has one selectman urging residents to get water tested as the health dangers posed by the chemicals continue to grow, although state and company officials have underscored that it is not clear whether the contamination is entirely Tex Tech’s fault.

“In that neighborhood, you can’t assume anything about the safety of your well,” said Kent Ackley, a selectman and former state representative running for his old seat in the 2022 election, referring to the North Monmouth village.

Exact levels of PFAS present in the area now have not been released. While Joe Gaboury, the plant manager for Tex Tech, said they were “very low,” 25 of 30 tested wells have exceeded the state’s drinking water standard, according to Maine DEP spokesperson David Madore.

A groundwater pump and treatment system had proved successful at containing the chemicals monitored since 1990. But after a test for the solvents in a nearby residential well in late 2019 also yielded PFAS, the state requested the testing be expanded to include those chemicals. Gaboury said the request to test further came last fall.

The company is now paying for the sampling and the installation of filter systems in affected homes while maintaining it is too early to say if it is the source of PFAS. It installed four filters in neighboring homes last week and plans to install 13 more.

PFAS are called forever chemicals because they take a long time to break down and linger in people, farmland and water. They have been associated with a variety of health risks, including certain cancers, decreased vaccine responses in children and thyroid issues.

Ackley said he was informed of the company’s testing by a resident. A letter he posted to Facebook from Gaboury said wells in the North Monmouth area had tested above the state’s interim standard. Residents in that region primarily have wells with no public water source.

That might change after the 2018 test results came to the town’s attention. The select board approved a $100,000 feasibility study for the Monmouth Water Association, which serves hundreds of residents in another part of town, in February to determine the feasibility and interest in bringing public water into the area.

Maine has been taking a hard line against PFAS, establishing a fund to help affected farmers remove the chemicals from their lands and the world’s first phase-out of most products containing them by 2030. But efforts to track what manufacturers are using the product and discharging it in waste and keep it out of food packaging have hit roadblocks.

For now, Tex Tech is offering bottled water to residents even if they have not had their wells tested because the company wants people to feel safe as the investigation continues, Gaboury said. Even with high levels in the past at the plant’s location, he said data provided so far by a surveying company is “complex” and does not necessarily point to Tex Tech as the source.

He said after the 2018 tests, the manufacturing plant confirmed with suppliers that it does not use products containing PFAS. He could not say whether the chemicals were used before.

“We have never been out of compliance and always used what was allowed to be used at that time,” he said.

Madore had a more complicated response: While it was likely Tex Tech caused some of the area’s PFAS groundwater contamination, other sources are possible because of the pervasiveness of the chemical. The investigation is expected to continue, he said.

“Whatever their results are, good or bad, they’re going to get a copy,” Gaboury said.