PRINCETON — Voters at a Feb. 26 special town meeting agreed to borrow up to $1 million to sample, test and monitor well water near the town center for the possible presence of harmful chemicals.

The chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, known as PFAS, can be dangerous to pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants, as well as harmful to fetal development. PFAS can also cause thyroid problems and cancer in certain sensitive populations.

The borrowing voters approved will also pay for furnishing bottled water and point-of-entry treatment systems to affected households as well as related consulting engineering and legal activities the town will undertake in relation to the PFAS.

A “yes” vote was needed from a two-thirds majority of voters in order to pass the single warrant article. It was approved on a voice vote with only a few dissenting. Town officials estimated more than 100 voters in attendance.

James Dunbar, town treasurer, said the effect of the borrowing on the tax rate is 18 cents per thousand dollars valuation for every $100,000 borrowed, plus interest, over 10 years. According to town administrator Sherry Patch, there may be a program through the USDA that can put the borrowing out for 40 years.

PFAS chemicals have been around since the 1950s and can be found in firefighting foam as well as stain-resistant and water-resistant fabrics, nonstick products and coatings on consumer products like waxes, outdoor clothing, carpets, leather goods and hairsprays.

Described as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily and stay in the environment for a very long time, PFAS are water-soluble and can seep into the soil and then into water supplies.

Water contaminated by PFAS is of less concern when used for bathing, showering, washing fruits and vegetables or when found in restaurants.

Water sampling conducted on the Town Hall campus well last September showed evidence of PFAS and led to the testing of private wells in the area, revealing measurable levels of the chemicals in some of them. The town does not have a municipal water system.

Since 2018, the state Department of Environmental Protection set regulations permitting only 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFAS.

Twenty-nine wells in the center of town have been identified as being contaminated by the chemicals with levels ranging from less than 2 ppt (considered a nondetectable level) to greater than 100 ppt. The highest level — 421 ppt — was found at the Town Hall campus well.

Engineers Tighe and Bond have conducted the PFAS tests locally, moving in 500 feet circles from the Town Hall campus. When a well is found with contamination levels over 2 ppt, another 500 foot circle is drawn from that point and wells within that section are tested.

The testing will continue until there are “non-detects” all around the testing area, select board chair Karen Cruise said.

There are a couple of contenders for the source of the contamination, Cruise said.

“Was it the fire department? Was it some foam that was applied to the 30 Mountain Road fire? Was it something else?” Cruise said these were questions that remain to be answered.

The 30 Mountain Road fire happened in May 2017 at the site of the former Princeton Inn.

Cruise said the town will seek funding from the state or through grants or remuneration from whoever is found to be responsible for the contamination.

She said that with the borrowing approved, the town hopes to move a little faster with PFAS residue sampling and soil testing.