By Lee Burnett, Submissions Editor
The Sanford Water District is seeking state grants to beef up filtration systems in the wake of the discovery of so-called “forever chemicals” in one of its six wells.
On September 21, the district immediately shut down pumping from the so-called COBB-2 well off River Street when testing detected higher than allowable limits of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Two other wells tested within allowable limits. Three other wells failed to show even trace amounts when tested in 2022.
According to Water District Superintendent David Parent, overall water supply remains ample despite the loss of COBB-2, which supplied about 10 percent of the city’s water. “We absolutely have enough, but managing the water supply will become a little more challenging during large firefighting efforts and periodic flushing protocols,” said Parent.
The district is dealing with an insidious class of contaminants that have accumulated in the environment since they were introduced in manufacturing processes in the 1940s. Thousands of PFAS compounds are used in countless consumer products such as nonstick cookware, clothing, fast food packaging, carpeting, personal care and cosmetic products, and firefighting foams. The compounds are blamed in a range of sicknesses and malfunctions, although health effects are still being studied. Public health officials are alarmed because of their persistence in the environment. Allowable limits in drinking water are being ratcheted down. Maine is ahead of other states in addressing the problem. Municipal sludge spreading has stopped and some farms have closed.
The Sanford Water District is seeking a series of grants to address not just COBB-2, but three other wells that may soon start to flunk tests. Initially, the district will seek two grants of $200,000 to plan and design a system to treat two wells at once. Then, the district will be eligible to apply for up to $4 million to construct the system, which may cost upwards of $5 million. The emerging remedy for PFAS is installation of “resin bed filters” at pump stations, which scrub PFAS from drinking water without being clogged by other compounds. Parent described the technology as superior to activated charcoal. “I have a fairly high degree of confidence that what we are proposing will work,” said Parent.
Eventually, the cost of extra treatment “will most certainly have a rate impact,” although Parent said he has no idea how significant the hike may be. The Maine Drinking Water Program makes grants and loans available on a competitive basis. “Sanford’s relatively low water rates and rising median incomes may work against its pitch for state aid,” he said. “The district’s strategy is to buffer the rate impact by phasing improvements over time.”