By Pat Elder,

Whenever I read or hear about PFAS in the news it always seems to be about contaminated drinking water. That’s because the federal government and the U.S. military prefer talking about PFAS in municipal water systems where the problem is being resolved. They don’t want to address the environmental disaster and public health crisis caused by these chemicals in our surface water and groundwater.

“PFAS” are per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances and they’re bad news.

In 2016 the EPA established a health advisory for PFOS & PFOA in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. At the time, the EPA recognized that the dominant source of human exposure to PFAS is primarily from the diet and other sources like indoor dust from carpets. The health advisory was calculated using a contribution of 20% for the water, which allows for PFAS exposure from other sources to make up the additional 80% exposure.

The European Food Safety Authority estimates that 86% of the PFAS in our bodies comes from food, especially seafood caught from contaminated waters. When we allow for the carpets and the dust and the frying pans, this doesn’t leave much of a slice of the pie for municipal water, which, in the case of Brunswick, is reported to be PFAS free.

It’s not so much the drinking water! Instead, it’s the fish and the mussels and pretty much everything we eat from the rivers and the sea that are making us sick.

For more than 40 years the Navy recklessly discarded thousands of gallons of toxic firefighting foam into the ground in Brunswick. This region will suffer the consequences for a millennium – and perhaps forever. PFAS are pesky poisons. They never break down and they accumulate in us. They’re linked to several cancers and they profoundly affect the developing fetus. Think: ADHD, obesity, hypertension, hypothyroidism and gastroenteritis in children. PFAS is associated with delayed menarche and mammary gland development. Experts say ingesting as little as 1 ppt of these chemicals in drinking water may be dangerous.

An image of the Navy logo overlaid with a poison sign against a background of mussels


The DOD reported that groundwater at the former Naval Air Station Brunswick was contaminated with concentrations of PFOS at 24,000 ppt and PFOA at 15,000 ppt. Combined, that’s 39,000 ppt.

In June 2021, the Maine Legislature established a new interim state drinking water standard of 20 ppt for the combined sum of six different PFAS: PFOA, PFOS, PFHpA, PFNA, PFDA, and PFHxS.  The groundwater coming out of the base is 1,950 times over the limit.

People who drink from wells near military bases are in peril. Although PFOS plumes are known to travel many miles, the DOD says it recently sent notifications to ten agricultural operations within one mile of the former Brunswick installation, warning of the contamination in groundwater.

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