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Journal Tribune
Updated November 8, 2019
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After milk contamination, health advocates urge Maine to ban sludge spreading

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

Dairy farmer Fred Stone said he never knew the treated sludge he applied to his hayfields for decades could be contaminated by a class of chemicals increasingly linked to cancer, development problems and other health concerns.

More than two years after the discovery of so-called PFAS contamination, Stone still cannot sell milk from his herd and the nearby Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Wells Water District must filter water from a local well to remove the chemical.

On Tuesday, Stone and public health advocates raised the alarm that other farms across Maine and the nation could be contaminated with PFAS chemicals – per- and pre-polyfluoroalkyl – once commonly used in cookware, carpeting and firefighting foam. 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.

“The state’s past misconduct shamefully failed to protect our food, water and health from this serious toxic pollution threat,” Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “The state must act swiftly now to test other farm fields, end sludge spreading until proven safe and phase out current uses of these ‘forever chemicals.”

The groups was holding a press conference at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel on Tuesday morning.

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 formerly 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 across the country have involved current or former military bases, including former Brunswick Naval Air Station and former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The case of Stoneridge Farm in Arundel could raise even broader public health concerns, however. Milk from Stone’s dairy herd had PFAS levels up to seven times higher than the state’s “action level” after regulators began searching in 2016 for the source of contamination in one Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Wells Water District well.

“Toxic chemicals that I never used, and never even knew about, contaminated my cows’ milk, ruined my farming and hurt my family,” Stone said in a prepared statement issued prior to the event at his farm. “I want the state of Maine to make sure no other farming families go through what’s happening to us.”

PFAS is already on Gov. Janet Mills radar.

Earlier this month, Mills announced the formation of a state task force on PFAS in response to perceptions that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is “dragging its feet” on the issue. The task force will review information about known contamination locations, identify sources, explore treatment or disposal options, and examine potential contamination in fish and marine organisms. The group will also determine how much PFAS-containing firefighting foam is around Maine and identify potential alternatives.

MacRoy called the task force a good first step.

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