PERRY, Maine — A second round of tests on private wells here has confirmed the presence of bacteria that makes the water unsafe to drink, officials reported Tuesday.
One well is contaminated by E. coli and other wells showed high levels of coliform, said Karen Raye, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
The tests were performed on water from seven wells belonging to Passamaquoddy tribal members. Their wells were being monitored in conjunction with the Pleasant Point tribe’s efforts to explore the feasibility of obtaining well water in the area. The monitoring wells were tested for water quality before and after other pump-out tests to determine the capacity of exploratory wells.
The first round of tests showed the monitoring wells were contaminated by coliform bacteria and the water was undrinkable. The discovery prompted Raye and other town officials to go door-to-door on Oct. 13 to warn about 35 households in the neighborhood that their wells might be contaminated, too.
However, Raye conferred with state health officials later, and they indicated the tests could have been flawed and the results not accurate. The samples were taken from outdoor faucets and garden hoses.
New tests were scheduled to be performed on Thursday of last week.
Raye said she learned of the latest test results on Monday via an email from Marvin Cling, environmental director for the tribe at Pleasant Point. She subsequently spoke with representatives of the tribe’s consulting engineering firm, Wright-Pierce. Raye planned to discuss the latest test results and other issues related to the tribe’s well project at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Cling declined to share the results of the second round of tests on the seven wells.
“I can’t,” Cling said, because the tribe did not obtain permission from the well owners to disclose information about the tests.
However, Cling confirmed that a well tested positive for E. coli.
“I feel it is my responsibility to let you know that all the pre-test reports came back as unsafe to drink for various reasons and the majority were for coliform bacteria,” Cling wrote to Raye and other officials in an email dated Monday. “For the post-tests, two came back as satisfactory to drink. The rest were unsatisfactory and mostly because of coliform bacteria also.”
The pre-test reports refer to water quality tests conducted before the pump-out tests, and post-tests refer to those performed afterward.
Cling indicated that he was in the process of notifying the tribal well owners of the results of the latest tests and that tribal officials were working with them to help disinfect their water.
E. coli is a fecal contamination.
“It’s a serious concern,” said Roger Crouse, director of Maine’s Drinking Water Program, which is administered by the state Department of Health and Human Services, and indicates a “whole host of pathogens that could be present.”
“They need to not drink the water … and find out why they have E. coli in their well” and correct the problem, said Crouse.
The presence of fecal contamination “certainly could” indicate the well has been tainted by a septic system, noted Crouse.
Darrin Lary, a project manager for Wright-Pierce, did not respond to a voice mail inquiring about the second round of tests.
The tribe has been dissatisfied with the quality of water supplied by the Passamaquoddy Water District, which serves the tribe at Pleasant Point as well as the city of Eastport, and is attempting to develop an alternate source of water.
The tribe received word about the contaminated wells on Oct. 10, according to Raye. However, town officials did not learn of it until Raye received an email from Cling the evening of Oct. 12.
Cling sent the Oct. 12 email in response to a letter sent to him the previous day from Raye and the Board of Selectmen. The board’s letter was in regard to tests the tribe conducted in late September on the exploratory wells. Those tests involved pumping out water for 10 days to determine the capacity of the wells and the effect on the aquifer. Several Perry residents complained to town officials that those pump-out tests reduced the water level in their wells and tainted the quality of their water. Town officials issued a stop work order at the conclusion of the pump-out tests and have been investigating since then.
At last week’s board meeting, Raye skirted a question from resident Nancy Asante, who asked if anyone had notified town officials of plans for the 10-day tests. The issue is still open to enforcement, Raye replied.
However, Raye added that town officials heard “rumblings” several weeks earlier about the pump-out tests and that the tribe’s project was going to proceed.
“I reached out to Marvin Cling repeatedly,” asking about the project, she said, but received no response until the tests were underway.
“It’s put a lot of people in a very awkward position,” said Asante, and some had to make repairs or improvements to their water supply.
In his email this week, Cling declined to answer an apparent question from Raye about what the tribe would do to help those who were affected by the pump-out tests.
“I do not want to say what is being discussed to work with those who feel that are impacted because I do not have the resources to back up anything that I have heard discussed,” Cling wrote.
“I have done nothing but try to respond as quickly as possible,” added Cling.