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PFAS in Maine Agriculture

About 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 industries since the 1950s. Studies suggest that these chemicals may have negative effects on the human body.

How PFAS affect Maine agriculture

PFAS enter agricultural soils through a variety of means, and from there they may be taken up by plants and then by animals. Since PFAS chemicals were widely used, they can still end up in waste water treatment plants and other waste products from everyday household activities and industrial sources. The application of residuals (for example, industrial waste products or 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, they 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 farms have been found to have elevated levels of PFOS in milk, and are currently working with DACF to address contamination issues.

Resources for Maine farmers who are concerned about or experiencing PFAS contamination on their farms

MFT is offering emergency grants for dairy farmers in collaboration with MOFGA and DACF. The grants currently are available to cover the costs of ongoing milk tests to allow farmers to qualify for the USDA’s Dairy Indemnification Payment Program (DIPP), which compensates farmers for the value of the milk they would otherwise sell commercially but for contamination. Interested farmers must contact DACF, which will refer farmers to MFT and MOFGA for the grants based on milk tested and found to exceed DACF’s threshold for PFOS contamination so as to render their products unsaleable.

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