Sara Dunne, the technical director, and David Heidary, chief quality officer, are pictured at Maine Laboratories' location in Norridgewock in December. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Laboratories

The first laboratory approved to test drinking water for toxic “forever chemicals” has opened in Maine, with an aim to reduce the amount of time people are currently waiting for results.

Maine Laboratories LLC, located in the Somerset County town of Norridgewock, received its accreditation from the Maine Laboratory Accreditation Program to analyze drinking water for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, on Friday, said Lindsay Hammes, the communications director for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to testing for PFAS in public water systems and private wells, the lab can also test wastewater, sludge, landfill leachate, soil, animal tissue, milk and other substances, said Katie Richards, the CEO of Maine Laboratories.

If clients need non-standard items tested for PFAS, they should call the lab, and “we would just figure out what it would take to get it done,” Richards said.

“Our hope and the entire reason we opened is we’d like to be able to take a chunk out of the PFAS testing backlog,” she said.

PFAS are a class of chemicals used to make products resistant to water, grease and heat, and they build up in bodies and the environment over time. Studies are ongoing, but some have linked certain compounds to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, high cholesterol, decreased response to vaccines, fetal complications and other health problems.

The chemicals seeped into wells when farmers, under state approval, spread sludge from local wastewater treatment plants on fields as fertilizer. The chemicals are also in wastewater, which is discharged into rivers that sometimes help feed drinking water systems downstream.

People may currently wait a month — or longer, depending on the request — for PFAS test results from labs facing high demand from businesses and farmers, drinking water and wastewater facilities, governments and individuals.

Maine Laboratories’ standard turnaround time is about two weeks, Richards said. Costs for tests range from $285 to $425.

Maine Laboratories was founded by Richards and her husband, Chris Richards.

Katie Richards grew up on a small farm in Belmont, she said, and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Kentucky. Chris Richards graduated from Skowhegan Area High School and received his doctorate in chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

He now splits his time between Kentucky, where he is a chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky, and Norridgewock.

Maine Laboratories has one employee currently conducting testing. It plans to grow with demand, Katie Richards said.

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...