ARUNDEL — Public health advocates on Tuesday called for Maine to ban the use of municipal sludge as fertilizer and to phase out an industrial chemical that has ruined an Arundel farmer’s livelihood and contaminated a public water source.

Dairy farmer Fred Stone said he never knew the sludge from sewage treatment plants that he applied to his hayfields for decades could be contaminated by PFAS – chemicals increasingly linked to cancer, liver damage, low birth weight and other health concerns.

More than two years after learning of the contamination, Stone estimates he is losing between $415 and $450 a day to operate his farm as he dumps 100 or more gallons of fresh milk daily because of lingering contamination. The Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Wells Water District also was required to install a filter on a well on Stone’s land that was used to supply water to local residents.

Stone blames the state for encouraging the application of treated municipal sludge – known as biosolids – beginning in the 1980s and is convinced the problem is not limited to his 100-acre farm along the banks of the Kennebunk River.

“The toxic chemicals that I never used and had never even known about until two years ago contaminated my cows – which I really take exception to – and ruined my farming operation and hurt my family,” Stone said during a news conference on his farm. “I want the state of Maine to make sure that no other farming families have to go through what’s happening to us. Believe me, I would not wish this on my worst enemies.”

Formally known as per- and pre-polyfluoroalkyl, PFAS are commonly used in cookware, carpeting, coated papers and firefighting foam. And while the two types of PFAS found on Stone’s farm are no longer manufactured in the U.S., other variants are still used in products.

Public health advocates praised Gov. Janet Mills for creating a task force this month to study PFAS contamination in Maine. But on Tuesday, they urged the Mills administration to expand testing and move aggressively to end both sludge spreading and any lingering usage of PFAS chemicals in products in Maine.

Lida Rose, a brown Swiss cow, eats grass while Fred Stone speaks at a press conference Tuesday on his Arundel dairy farm about chemical contamination in his fields and his cows. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It seems highly unlikely that Mr. Stone’s farm is the only one with PFAS contamination from sludge,” said Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. “All of the evidence suggests that this is but the tip of the toxic iceberg. There are likely other farms – dairy or otherwise – with similar contamination. Until the tests are done, that is the only safe assumption we can make.”

A spokesman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates biosolids, said the agency “shares the concerns raised regarding the emerging contaminants” and has prioritized PFAS testing in public drinking water supplies in recent years.

“Maine DEP is actively considering its regulatory options to ensure the safety of any sludge spread in the state,” DEP spokesman David Madore said in a statement. “We intend to act promptly so that protective measures are in place before this year’s sludge spreading season gets underway. Information and our understanding of these chemicals is evolving and we look forward to working with the governor’s task force to lead this important discussion and coordinate the state’s efforts going forward.”

There is growing worldwide concern about the health impacts of PFAS, a group of man-made chemicals widely used since the 1940s because of their ability to repel water and grease. The chemicals were used to create non-stick surfaces on Teflon cookware, stain-resistant carpet, microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes as well as in firefighting foam.

Most of the high-profile PFAS contamination cases nationwide involve industrial sites or military bases – including the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H. – where the chemical was used to fight fires.

The case of Stoneridge Farm in Arundel could raise much broader public health concerns given that biosolids have been applied to farms nationwide for decades.

Officials at Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Wells Water District alerted Stone to a problem in 2016 when tests on a well located on his farm showed elevated PFAS levels. Stone said he quickly contacted his milk processor as well as the DEP, which began testing his water, soils, hay, milk and cow manure in late-2016 or early-2017.

The soil and grass, and Fred Stone’s cows and the milk they produce have high levels of PFAS chemicals because of sewage sludge that Stone spread on the fields from 1983 to 2004. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Milk from Stone’s dairy herd had PFAS levels up to seven times higher than the 210 parts per trillion “action level” above which the milk should not be sold for consumption. Stone stopped selling his milk to Oakhurst Dairy and subsequently lost his contract with the processor. Meanwhile, officials from the Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Wells Water District stopped using the well until a high-tech carbon filtration system was installed to remove PFAS.

The DEP said application of biosolids was more common in Maine in the 1980s and 1990s, but the Reuters news agency reported 66 sites are currently permitted for sludge spreading. And Stone said he was personally hired to spread treated sludge – supplied by the Kennebunk and Ogunquit sewer districts – on roughly a dozen farms in Kennebunk, Lyman, Dayton and Arundel over the years.

“The whole thing has been a bloody nightmare,” Stone said. “What Maine farmers need … is action from the DEP to get the chemical polluters to pay for the cleanup across the state, because PFAS contamination isn’t just a one-off thing. It doesn’t just happen here.”

The DEP only tested one other farm near Stone’s where treated sludge was applied. Madore said those tests revealed PFAS levels much lower than those at Stoneridge.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will start work by year’s end on developing health standards for PFAS in drinking water supplies. But critics contend the Trump administration is moving too slowly to address the emerging concern.

Dr. Laurel Schaider, research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute and a visiting scientist at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public health, said the levels of PFAS considered safe have been dropping lower as more research is conducted into potential health impacts. Schaider said that with more than 4,600 variants of PFAS, there is no clear understanding of the extent of contamination or the risk that poses.

“PFAS along with its chemical cousins … are extremely persistent in the environment, meaning they don’t break down,” Schaider said at Stoneridge Farm. “This means that pollution from older legacy sources continue to be sources of PFAS exposure well into the future.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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