Forever Chemicals


In 2018, the CDC released their National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, revealing that 99% of Americans have an average of 4.7 ppb Per- and Poly- Fluorinated Substances in their blood. These are man-made alkyl groups in which fluorine has been substituted for hydrogen, this strong carbon-fluorine bond making it nearly impossible for Forever Chemicals to biodegrade. When per- and poly- fluorinated substances(acronymed to PFAS) were first discovered in 1938, they were immediately commercialized due to their resistance to water, heat, oil, electricity, and grease. DuPont Chemical patented their PFAS as Teflon, and 3M followed suit with a similar chemical named Scotchgard. In the resulting decades, PFAS was used in millions of products, everything from pizza boxes to military firefighting foam.

 In 1963, after a decade of testing PFAS on rodents, 3M privately acknowledged that Scotchgard was toxic. Over the next 30 years, discoveries involving the extent of the toxicity and pollution risks of Teflon and Scotchgard were diligently recorded and quietly filed away. Much of DuPont Chemical’s research revolved around their Parkersburg, WV factory. There, it was revealed that the factory had polluted the waters of 3 nearby towns and that the workers in the factory had an elevated risk of cancer and liver disease. It was only in 1998, amid multiple lawsuits involving PFAS contamination, that Dupont and 3M turned their research over to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

As opposed to the dangers of the direct and intentional PFAS exposure seen in the Parkersburg factory, PFAS unknowingly spread in the environment also shows significant risk. As Scotchgard and Teflon continued to be shipped globally in the mid-1980s, Arundel dairy farmer Fred Stone was licensed to spread mineral-rich sludge from paper factories on farmland as a soil supplement. Stone spread sludge unknowingly laced with PFAS on his and a dozen other farms 3 times a year for 15 years. 2016 testing by the Maine DEP revealed PFAS in the milk, soil, hay, and water supply of his farm. The milk that Stone regularly sold to Oakhurst had a PFAS content of 1,460 ppt, over 20 times the safe limit in consumables set by the EPA, and blood tests performed on Stone and his wife revealed 111 and 93.5 ppb PFAS respectively. Stone’s farm is a perfect example of the dangers of PFAS moving through the food chain. First administered to the soil, they were absorbed by the hay, which was fed to the cattle, and then transferred from the cattle into the milk regularly consumed by Stone and his wife. This contaminated milk was sold to Oakhurst for years, the company which provides RSU 21 with milk for school lunches. Additionally, the PFAS had worked their way into the water table where they polluted not only the farm well, but also the district well and a nearby pond. 

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, exposure to PFAS can lead to cancer, pregnancy complications, hormonal interference, obesity, and childhood growth defects. PFAS can spread person to person in utero, and through breast milk. Recent testing initiated by Governor Janet Mills has also found PFAS in soil, water, milk, deer meat, fish, and chicken eggs across our state. PFAS have also been found in “agricultural sites, drinking water supplies, surface waters, landfills, wastewater, sludge, and septage spreading sites, and remediation and cleanup sites” (Office of Governor Janet T. Mills). Kennebunk Water District, which provides the water for our school, has also recorded levels of PFAS in their water.  

In March of 2021, Governor Mills formally requested support from the federal government for managing and testing for PFAS. Shortly afterward, a slew of new standards and regulations were instituted to limit the spread of PFAS, including new standards for drinking water, the elimination of sludge spreading programs, the restrictions of PFAS based firefighting foam, and the implementation of regular testing for soils, milk, fish, and other animal tissue across the state. This allowed for the discovery of PFAS in soil, water, milk, deer meat, and chicken eggs across the state. Also important was the expansion of the statute of limitations regarding Mainers victimized by PFAS. A statute of limitations sets the amount of time after an event in which a person is allowed to initiate legal proceedings. This is important because the majority of PFAS exposures in Maine occurred decades before the dangers of PFAS were recognized. In October of 2021, the Maine State Legislature required the regular testing for PFAS at not only sludge spreading sites but also areas near landfills where leachate (contaminated runoff) may have drained. Another new law in Maine declares that as of January 1, 2023, no carpets and fabric with intentionally added PFAS may be sold in the state of Maine, and as of January 1, 2030, no products with intentionally added PFAS may be sold at all. These are the world’s first bans of the sale of per- and poly- fluorinated substances. 

Our state has led the charge to protect citizens from PFAS pollution, yet every day more and more areas of contamination are discovered. It is almost certain at some point contaminated milk has been served in our schools, and at some point, contaminated water has flown through our water fountains. And as each small problem is solved, another arises. In 2020, the turf manufactured by Sprinturf (which will be used in our future athletic complex) was tested for PFAS, revealing 2 to 4 ppb. Sprinturf maintans this is from cross-contamination, and the turf will still be installed at Kennebunk High School. While the full impacts of PFAS contamination are still being learned, they seem likely to linger, possibly forever. 


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