In Maine, we discover an invisible substance that threatens our land, our food and our water. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are water and oil resistant chemicals that contaminate soil and water. Typically, these chemicals coat adhesives, cooking surfaces, electrical wire insulation, fire-fighting foam, and furniture.
However, once these items are discarded or disposed of, PFAS chemicals cannot be contained and spread from dumps and landfills to contaminate soil and water sources. Additionally, early testing shows that the Maine paper industry and PFAS contamination are closely linked. Of great concern, PFAS in our food and water contaminate sewage sludge. Waste from paper mills was turned into fertilizer that farmers could spread on their fields; sludge from treatment plants is currently spread on farms to fertilize fields; and treated sludge contaminated with PFAS continues to be sold to homeowners as compost for their gardens.
Exposure to PFAS has a significant impact on human health, harming the immune system and causing negative health outcomes in children. Our state has taken corrective action, installing filters on private wells to remove PFAS from household water supplies.
As Maine farmers and food producers – as well as Maine residents who purchase products containing PFAS – learn more about PFAS contamination, we must take action to address this environmental and public health challenge.
As a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, I have worked hard with my colleagues, especially Senator Stacy Brenner (D-Scarborough) to take steps to test for PFAS contamination and reduce harm that it causes to our health and planet.
A bill, LD 1875, would reduce the risk of PFAS contamination from leachate, which is the sludge that seeps from dumpsites and landfills. LD 1875 would require leachate to be treated to reduce PFAS contamination at state-owned waste disposal facilities, such as Juniper Ridge Landfill, before being sent to wastewater treatment facilities. For example, at Juniper Ridge, leachate is minimally treated and then dumped into the Penobscot River. This practice spreads PFAS contamination to fish, wildlife and plants that are used for their sustenance and connects members of the Penobscot Nation to their culture and identity.
Another bill, LD 1911 Amended, would prohibit the spreading of sludge or compost and sludge-derived fertilizers on farmland. Virtually all sludge from the sewage treatment plant contains PFAS and the sludge concentrates PFAS chemicals to high and dangerous levels. We know that spreading sludge on fields has contaminated animals, crops and drinking water, and we are determined to end this harmful practice until we have the technology to eliminate PFAS. Both bills will reduce the risk of further contamination from PFAS, which is critical to saving Maine farms and protecting the health of Mainers.
However, we know that these two bills will not be enough to solve the whole problem. Farmers are hurting now, which is why I want to make sure people are aware of the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association and Maine Farmland Trust PFAS emergency relief fund.
The fund will provide grants to help select farmers pay for initial PFAS testing and provide short-term income replacement for those who have already been affected by PFAS contamination. On March 1, grants became available. To learn more, please visit mainefarmlandtrust.org/farm-viability/pfas-emergency-relief-fund/. You can also contact Tricia Rouleau, Director of the Agricultural Network, at [email protected] or 207-338-6575.
Finally, I appreciate that Governor Janet Mills included an additional $9.5 million for PFAS testing in her supplemental budget. The proposal allocates funds to improve and expand PFAS testing capacity in Maine. More than $3 million of these funds would support Maine farms and farmers who discover PFAS contamination in their livestock, produce, soil and water.
In addition to farmers, hunters in Maine would benefit from $750,000 to test wildlife. Last year, during a hunting season that marked 38,000 deer, the state issued a do not eat advisory when deer were harvested near hotspots of PFAS contamination. I look forward to hearing more about this proposal, and others, when the Legislative Assembly votes on the supplementary budget later this session.
Anne Carney represents Maine’s Senate District 29, which includes Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough. She can be reached at 207-287-1515 or [email protected]