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PFAS in Maine Agriculture

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 on the leading edge in the country in learning about PFAS, their impacts on agriculture and human health, and in learning about how to address PFAS contamination. 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 in Maine. We’ll continue to share information and resources here as they become available. Farmers and landowners can reach out to MFT staff at pfasinfo@mainefarmlandtrust.org. We’re here to help answer questions and navigate resources.

We are updating this page as we learn more: last update 12:43 PM on August 2.

What are PFAS?

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. Studies suggest that these chemicals may have negative effects on the human body.

For more information, download FAQs about PFAS contamination and what to do if you are concerned about contamination on your farm (English | Spanish)

How do PFAS affect Maine farms?

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, as well as into the drinking water of farmers. Since PFAS chemicals were widely used, they can still end up in wastewater treatment plants and other waste products from everyday household activities and industrial sources.

The application of residuals (which include industrial waste products and biosolids) on agricultural land is permitted and regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), since these products contain nutrients which can enhance agricultural production. However, residuals may also contain PFAS, especially in the past. Since PFAS are persistent in the environment, the application of residuals decades ago can still impact PFAS levels in the soil today.

Beginning in 2019, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) began testing Maine-produced fluid pasteurized milk to determine the level of one chemical, PFOS, in Maine’s milk supply, since residuals were often applied to dairy farms. Based on the survey results, DACF has high confidence in the safety of Maine-produced milk. However, several individual dairy farms have been found to have elevated levels of PFOS in milk, and are currently working with DACF to address contamination issues. 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).

Maine DEP has expanded their testing of sites suspected to have PFAS/PFOS based on application of residuals. As testing expands, more and various types of farms are likely to become aware of PFAS contamination, and DACF, MFT, MOFGA and others are working together to be ready to support farms through research and direct assistance to identify alternative production and business strategies. Currently, the DEP has identified roughly 700 sites where residuals have been applied, located in nearly three dozen “Tier 1” towns throughout the state. These sites have been deemed to be at higher risk of contamination, and DEP has begun testing sites at the top of that list. The goal is to test all Tier 1 sites by 2023, and test all sites where residuals have been applied by 2025. More information about the state’s testing process and timeline can be found here.

What should Maine farmers do?

MFT staff are here to help answer questions and navigate resources related to PFAS. Maine Farmland Trust easement holders can reach out to your land steward anytime or email Hannah Chamberlain at hchamberlain@mainefarmlandtrust.org. You are also welcome to email PFAS-specific questions to pfasinfo@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

If you are concerned about or experiencing PFAS contamination on your farm:

  • Roadmap for Addressing PFAS Contamination: This guide, compiled by the staff at MOFGA, provides a step-by-step process to navigating PFAS testing and financial support. It also features contact information of experts throughout the process.
  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Guide to Investigating PFAS Risk on Your Farm: This guide, which is updated in real-time with new information, lists steps that you can take to determine your farm’s PFAS risk, mitigation options that might be available, and the up-to-date status of the Maine government’s response to PFAS contamination. The University of Maine has also developed a guide to assessing contamination on dairy farms.
  • Maine DEP map of biosolids sites: You can use this map to see sites associated with licenses for spreading biosolids. However, pins on the map may not show whether biosolids were actually spread there or whether those biosolids contained PFAS. Sites listed on the map, and immediately surrounding locations, may represent a higher probability of PFAS contamination, but not necessarily. Listed locations may not have PFAS contamination that is of a concern to human health, and locations with concerning levels of PFAS contamination may not show up on this map. If you have questions, MFT staff are available to help you navigate the map at pfasinfo@mainefarmlandtrust.org.
  • Testing for PFAS: MOFGA has gathered a number of resources related to testing water, soil or forage.
  • Maine PFAS Emergency Relief Fund: MFT and MOFGA are jointly administering a PFAS emergency relief fund to support any farm dealing with potential PFAS contamination. Learn more about eligibility and enrollment.
    The fund has four primary purposes:

    • To help pay for initial PFAS testing on farms that choose to do their own testing.
    • To reduce the emotional impact of the PFAS crisis by funding wellness costs and supporting access to mental health services for impacted farmers.
    • To provide short-term income replacement for farms that the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) has identified as having high test results.
    • To invest in infrastructure adaptations to help PFAS impacted farms remain viable.

What’s being done to address PFAS contamination in Maine?

Maine is on the leading edge of learning about and dealing with PFAS, but Maine has a strong core of farm supporters and organizations like MFT that are committed to supporting farmers. That means that Maine is in a strong position to tackle this issue and create effective strategies to support farmers through this crisis. Many organizations are working together with state agencies to respond to the issue.

What is MFT doing?

MFT is working to support farmers and farmland in a variety of ways, including:

  • Listening closely to farmers and creating programs that respond directly to their needs.
  • Together with MOFGA, gathering a number of resources related to testing water, soil or forage, and establishing and administering a PFAS Emergency Relief Fund to support PFAS testing, mental health, and income replacement.
  • Working with MFT’s Forever Farms to keep easements intact, while providing significant flexibility to support impacted farmers to ensure that easements neither add stressors nor hamper farmers’ ability to pivot their farm business.
  • Advancing policy priorities that stop the ongoing spread of PFAS on farmland and ensure impacted farmers receive the support that they need. Two important state policy developments in Maine’s response to PFAS include: the passing of LD 1911, which banned the land application of PFAS-contaminated sludge and  compost derived from sludge; and the inclusion of $60 million in the supplemental budget to support PFAS-impacted farmers in areas like income replacement, health monitoring, research on soil remediation and relocation services. Learn more about our PFAS advocacy work and how you can be involved here. 

Stay up to date about PFAS in Maine

To help you stay up to date on the evolving situation, we will add relevant events as they are announced. Click here to help Maine farmers meet the challenge of PFAS.

How can I help?

MFT is investigating all of the existing state and federal sources of support for farmers confronting or concerned about PFAS contamination. We will be engaging in advocacy efforts to help ensure that farmer needs are addressed. If you would like to hear about opportunities to get involved in the future, please sign up for our email list to receive updates and action alerts.

Our work to quickly mobilize and support farmers during crises like PFAS contamination is powered by our members. To support this work, consider joining MFT as a member or giving a gift membership to someone who is as passionate about Maine’s farms as you are.

For more information about how MFT is stepping up for farms, and how you can join us, click here.

Contact MFT

PFAS is a serious issue for Maine’s farm community, and we are only at the beginning of figuring out the impacts and how to best support impacted farms. Contact us at any time with questions, and check this page for emerging updates and resources.

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