Read the full article by Nathan Bernard (Beacon)

“The Mills administration recently passed a bill approving $60 million to combat the impacts of PFAS, but farmers, who are worried about the threats to their health and livelihood, may not receive that funding for some time. 

PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances commonly known as ‘forever chemicals,’ are industrial chemicals widely used to make non-stick cookware and other products. For decades, PFAS byproduct was used in sludge fertilizer and spread on farms across Maine until it came to light the chemicals may be linked to harmful health impacts on humans and animals. 

Farmers and other landowners across Maine have been reeling in recent months, concerned about the impact of soil contamination on their crops and personal health. 

Adam Nordell owns Songbird Farm in Unity and recently joined Defend Our Health as a campaign director after realizing the extent of the PFAS contamination on his property. As Nordell saw firsthand, PFAS contamination ‘touches everything about a farm operation, from the logistics of field work, animal care, marketing and financial planning, not to mention the health and well being of the farmers and farmworkers.’

Fund for farmers established

Among the bills passed last session to address the issue was legislation to create a $60 million fund to monitor health outcomes of people affected by PFAS; provide medical care to people with blood levels of PFAS greater than the general population; relocate commercial farms when their land is contaminated with PFAS; buy and sell land contaminated by PFAS; provide income and mortgage replacement for farms affected by PFAS; and conduct soil, water and crop research.  

While the legislation laid out areas of focus, it did not, however, create explicit criteria for the funds’ distribution. Rather, the bill left the details to the Department of Conservation, Agriculture, and Forestry (DACF), with the input of an advisory committee consisting of a variety of stakeholders chosen by DACF. 

‘There are steps that need to happen before the funds can be dispersed. The biggest one is setting up the advisory committee that the law calls for to decide how the funds should be spent,’ Defend our Health policy director Sarah Woodbury told Beacon. ‘The law calls for five farmers, one person with public health experience, and one person with financial experience… That is going to take some time to pull together.’

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced there is no safe level of two major groups of PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, in drinking water. Both chemicals have been found on farms, ground wells and aquifers across Maine. The state is in the process of testing more than 700 unique sites where these chemicals may be present.

Environmental advocates including Woodbury believe the new EPA guidelines mean the $60 million fund will need to be increased. 

‘If the state adjusts its standards based on the new EPA guidelines, which we believe it should, more people, particularly those on well water, are going to find themselves with contaminated water,’ Woodbury said. ‘It is also likely that more agricultural land and products are going to be considered contaminated.’

‘There should be increased funding to help monitor the health of those individuals, as is called for under [the original legislation],’ Woodbury continued. ‘And, with those new numbers, it’s possible more farmers will be impacted as well. We are going to need more than $60 million to deal with the issue.'” …