The need for affordable PFAS water testing

An alternative emerges to expensive state-accredited tests.
An aerial view of Western Creek
Recent testing done by Friends of Merrymeeting found high PFAS levels in three small creeks that drain from the Brunswick Naval Air Station to the Androscoggin River found high PFAS levels, with the westernmost creek (see red arrow) having 922 nanograms/liter. Credit:

When members of the regional watershed group Friends of Merrymeeting Bay (FOMB) learned about a relatively affordable PFAS water-testing kit made by the Illinois company Cyclopure, they envisioned using it to screen waters in the six rivers that feed the bay. To ensure credible results, the group’s chair, Ed Friedman, organized what he termed a “Consumer Reports-style comparison,” sending split samples from a single water source to Cyclopure, and to three labs accredited by state and federal agencies. 

FOMB found that the Cyclopure kit, which uses a corn-based disk designed to extract PFAS from water, delivered comparable results to two of the accredited labs in a similar time frame (a week or two) at substantial cost savings; each kit costs less than $80 rather than between $400 and $700. (The third accredited lab failed to detect many compounds the other labs had and took more than a month to deliver results.) 

A crouched down male uses a water test kit to assess PFAS levels
Friends of Merrymeeting Bay (FOMB) recently used Cyclopure water test kits to assess PFAS levels of tributaries leading into the Bay. FOMB chair Ed Friedman sampled the westernmost creek leading from Brunswick Naval Air Station to the Androscoggin River, a site that had the highest PFAS reading among all 30 sites sampled. Photo by Chris Gutscher/FOMB.

PFAS Free Trenton, a citizen’s group that recently persuaded the town’s select board to approve purchasing 100 test kits for residents, chose to test with accredited labs despite the added cost, said its spokesperson, Christina Heiniger, because those tests are the only ones recognized by the state. 

“DEP uses only lab-accredited processes because sampling results need to be reliable, consistent and replicable to the greatest extent possible,” the agency’s spokesperson David Madore wrote. “This is critically important as DEP makes both policy and funding decisions based upon the results obtained.”

“FOMB’s analysis and validation of the Cyclopure methodology challenges DEP’s argument and policy,” Friedman noted, adding that for the many homeowners who don’t know in advance if they will receive a state reimbursement for water-testing, the “high price of certified testing is a huge disincentive.” 

Bob Bowcock, a national water consultant who is collaborating with the activist Erin Brockovich to help Maine communities address PFAS contamination, sees screening tests as a means of triage given “we’ve got an emergency on our hands,” he said. He has four full-time assistants working in Maine to locate contamination hot spots, doing preliminary screening “where you can get five test kits for the price of (an accredited) one.” 

“The state could screen so many more people so much more quickly,” Bowcock added, “if they just looked at alternative strategies.”


This project was produced with support from the Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship, awarded by the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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Marina Schauffler

Marina Schauffler is a writer and editor who explores the complex interconnections between ecology and culture. Her "Sea Change" column, launched in 2014, highlights ways to live more sustainably and address our collective environmental and societal challenges, particularly the climate crisis. She holds a Ph.D. in natural resources and an MA in English/creative nonfiction writing (both from the University of New Hampshire), and an interdisciplinary honors BA from Brown University.
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