Feds to test water quality at Mitchell Field in Harpswell

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HARPSWELL — The federal government will expand its search to Mitchell Field for toxic chemicals that may have contaminated groundwater.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane, who requested the testing, said she has little reason to believe there is contamination at the former U.S. Navy fuel depot. “This is part of what we consider our due diligence,” she said Tuesday.

Tests of Brunswick’s groundwater and residential wells have taken place since the Navy closed the Brunswick Naval Air Station in 2011. Last month, another round of testing revealed the town’s area wells showed no signs of toxins.

No such testing has been done in Harpswell, and Eiane said the clean results in Brunswick give her little cause for concern. Still, she asked the Department of Environmental Protection last spring to help expand the Navy’s search to Harpswell.

Testing will primarily be for perfluorinated chemicals. Also known as PFCs, the manufactured compounds were used to make a variety of everyday household and industrial products, including a firefighting foam that was used by the Navy.

In September 2015, Brunswick officials were concerned about the possibility of contamination after reports that toxic PFCs were found in the drinking water at the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire – stemming from the same foam used at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Back then, a New Hampshire epidemiologist reported children who were tested after drinking water from a well near the former base showed levels of perflourinated chemicals in their blood 10 times higher than in children not exposed to the contaminated water.

PFC’s have caused developmental problems in lab animals, and are believed to be a health hazard to humans, according to The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Eiane said it was the news from Pease, not BNAS, that prompted her to contact DEP about testing at Mitchell Field, now a popular public recreation area. The Navy transferred the nearly 120-acre piece of coastal land, which has more than 2,600 feet of shoreline, to the town in 2001.

Firefighting materials were “without question” stored at the old fuel depot, Eiane said, but to her knowledge, there was little actual use of the toxic foam.

There is no timetable for when the testing will take place, she said, only the assurance that it will happen.

Sampling will only take place at Mitchell Field, not abutting areas. But that could change, Eiane said, if the tests don’t come back clean.

Previous tests for contamination of drinking water by petroleum products at Mitchell Field have come back clean, she noted.

Because those results – part of an ongoing monitoring program at the field – have been consistently good, Eiane said she hopes deed restrictions on groundwater use might be loosened, giving the town greater flexibility to drill wells and develop the property.

Town officials have noted that a lack of infrastructure – combined with the cost of creating a central water system, as studied in a 2012 town-commissioned report – have probably hindered business development at Mitchell Field.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

The federal government will expand its search for chemical contaminants to the groundwater at Harpswell’s Mitchell Field, the former U.S. Navy fuel depot.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.