Update on PFAS in Maine

Update on PFAS in Maine

February 1, 2022


Henry Trotter

The presence and persistence of PFAS contamination in soil, water and crops is an emerging national issue, and the unfolding information about PFAS in Maine is alarming, especially for farmers, whose livelihoods are connected to the land.

Maine is one of few states that has established screening levels to assess the level of PFAS contamination for products such as meat and milk (Maine does not yet have screening levels for any plant sources). There’s a lot we have yet to learn about PFAS and the impacts on farms and on human health, and we take confidence in the connectedness of Maine’s local food system and our collective ability to work together to meet this challenge. MFT is working closely with the state and many other partners to increase testing, research and support for Maine farmers who may be impacted by PFAS.

What is PFAS and how does it impact farms?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals including PFOA, PFOS and many other chemicals which are very persistent in the environment and in the human body. PFAS have been produced and used in a variety of products and industries since the 1950s, ranging from food packaging to fire fighting foam. PFAS enter agricultural soils through a variety of means, including biosolids from municipal sewage and contaminated irrigation water, and from there they may be taken up by plants and then by animals. Since PFAS are persistent in the environment, the application of biosolids containing PFAS decades ago can still impact PFAS levels in the soil today. We are still just beginning to understand the impact that a legacy of PFAS contamination in agriculture may have and are working closely with impacted farmers to offer support.

What’s happening now?

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is expanding the testing of water, soil and other products based on where biosolids might have been applied to farmland. The DEP has identified roughly 700 sites located in nearly three dozen towns throughout the state that have been deemed to be at higher risk of contamination and has begun testing sites at the top of that list, but the process is expected to take several years. Based on this testing, DACF, MFT, MOFGA and others are working together to support farms through research and direct assistance to identify alternative production and business strategies.

MFT is investigating all of the existing state and federal sources of support for farmers confronting or concerned about PFAS contamination. MFT and our partners will also be engaging in advocacy efforts to help ensure that farmer needs are addressed. Organizations across the state and the country are also working hard to gather more information that will help farmers with contaminated land make management decisions, how different soils and plants respond to the presence of PFAS and whether there are methods that reduce the presence of PFAS in food products.

What can we do?

There are still many unknowns about how PFAS moves through the environment and the body, where these chemicals may be discovered, and what can be done to remediate affected land and water. Maine is on the leading edge nationwide of research and learning about how to address PFAS contamination, which is emerging as a widespread issue, and unfortunately, PFAS contamination is being discovered across the country.

Maine’s farming community has jumped into action to support affected farms, research possible solutions to the problem, and pass legislation that can help reduce the impacts that PFAS have on Mainers. Here are some actions that you can take to address the presence of PFAS in Maine:

  • Support LD 1911 in the Maine Legislature: MFT is supporting LD 1911, An Act to Prohibit the Contamination of Clean Soils with So-called Forever Chemicals. LD 1911 would ensure that screening levels are either updated or established for all PFAS substances to protect clean soils from PFAS contamination, and prohibit the use of sludge, or compost derived from sludge, if it does not meet those updated screening levels. In doing so, the bill would close existing loopholes that allow for the contamination of farmland in Maine. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee is currently considering an amendment that would also ban the land application of sludge and compost derived from sludge, and prohibit the sale of compost derived from sludge in Maine. This would be an incredibly important development for protecting farms and farmland from PFAS contamination. You can get involved and advocate for action on PFAS by signing up to receive policy updates and action alerts here.
  • Stay up to date on PFAS in Maine: We are only at the beginning of figuring out the impacts of PFAS on farming in Maine and on Mainers, as well as across the country. This is a challenging time, especially for farmers who are dealing with uncertainty around the future of their businesses as well as the health risks of PFAS. By continuing to learn more about the issue, we can all ensure that we’re in the best possible position to support our community and handle these challenges together. The PFAS page on our website will be frequently updated as we learn more about the issue.
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