An Arundel couple whose dairy farm is contaminated by so-called “forever chemicals” had up to 20 times the national average of PFAS in their blood, according to test results released Thursday by the farmers’ attorneys.

Fred and Laura Stone’s dairy operation has been shut down because of chemical pollution in their groundwater, soil and cows’ milk. In a lawsuit, the Stones contend their farm was contaminated by PFAS in the treated municipal sludge or paper mill ash that was applied on their crop fields as fertilizer for years.

Blood samples collected in June by the Stones’ physician and tested by a California laboratory showed that Fred Stone’s blood had levels of PFOS – one type of chemical in the larger PFAS family – of 111 parts per billion while Laura Stone tested at 93.5 parts per billion. The national average for PFOS is 4.7 parts per billion, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

At a March news conference at his Arundel dairy farm, Fred Stone talked about chemical contamination in his fields and his cows caused by sludge he had spread on the fields to help the soils. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“When the contamination was discovered at the farm, we assumed that it must have gotten inside of our bodies, because we have been drinking the water and milk for many years,” Stone said in a statement released Thursday. “These blood test results add injury to insult.  First, it was our farm, then it was our cows and now it’s us?  When will this nightmare end?”

The per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals collectively known as PFAS have been widely used in consumer products and industrial compounds since the 1940s. PFAS chemicals create the nonstick surfaces on Teflon and other cookware, allow jackets or carpets to repel water, and are used to make paper or food packaging grease-resistant. PFAS chemicals are also key ingredients in the foam used to smother flames from burning jet fuel.

But the strong chemical bonds that create those sought-after qualities in consumer products also mean PFAS linger in the environment and “bioaccumulate” in the human body. A growing number of studies have linked PFAS – particularly two phased-out varieties, PFOA and PFOS — to cancer, thyroid disruption and other health problems.

However, as “emerging contaminants,” scientific research into the health effects of these long-lasting chemicals is still developing. The chemicals are drawing increasing focus across the country, including in Maine where a task force is examining PFAS contamination and lawmakers passed a bill to ban them in food packaging.

A 2015 “public health statement” on PFAS from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, for instance, said inconsistencies among studies made it “difficult to interpret” the results. The agency said, however, that available studies suggest a link between the two phased-out varieties and higher cholesterol levels, increased uric acid levels – which can cause high blood pressure – and liver damage.

Studies on laboratory animals, meanwhile, have shown changes in liver function, the immune system and increased tumor development. The federal government, however, has yet to declare a clear link between PFAS chemicals and cancer.

“Feeding PFOA and PFOS to rats caused them to develop tumors,” the 2015 public health statement said. “Some scientists believe that, based on the way this happens in rats and the differences between rats and humans, humans would not be expected to get cancer. Others believe that it is possible for perfluoroalkyls to cause cancer in humans, and the studies in rats should not be dismissed. More research is needed to clarify this issue.”

The Stones’ blood levels for PFOS were significantly higher than the national average, as determined by annual sampling through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. But the Stones’ levels were between 11 and 13 times higher than the average levels among children and adults potentially exposed to contaminated drinking water at New Hampshire’s former Pease Air Force Base, which is among New England’s highest-profile PFAS pollution sites.

In fact, Fred Stone’s 111 parts per billion level exceeded the highest level – 95.6 parts per billion – recorded by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services among the 1,578 individuals tested at Pease. Laura Stone’s levels were was just a few parts per billion lower than the highest result among the Pease group.

While many of the highest-profile PFAS contamination cases have occurred near military bases or factories that used the chemicals, Stoneridge Farm in Arundel has raised concerns about PFAS exposure from municipal sludge or paper mill waste spread as fertilizer. Many wastewater treatment facilities in Maine and across the nation distribute treated sludge, or biosolids, to farmers as a “beneficial reuse” of waste that would otherwise go into a landfill at higher cost.

As concern spread about whether Stoneridge Farm was an isolated case or a sign of bigger problems, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection imposed a short-term moratorium on sludge spreading this spring. Though that moratorium is now lifted, the department requires testing of biosolids before facilities can apply the materials to land.

Initial tests show the vast majority of facilities produced biosolids with PFAS levels above the DEP’s “screening concentration,” thereby triggering additional scrutiny. Roughly three-quarters of the fields where sludge was spread in the past tested too high for PFAS to allow for additional biosolids application this year, according to DEP data.

A PFAS task force created by Gov. Janet Mills also is discussing the biosolids issue and plans to issue recommendations to Mills and the Legislature by year’s end.

Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Portland-based Environmental Health Strategy Center, said the Stones’ blood test results raise additional alarms, and he reiterated his organization’s call for more testing of both farms and agricultural products from farms where sludge was spread as fertilizer.

“These alarming blood test results demonstrate that it’s not only consumers of Maine dairy and fresh farm food with cause for concern – it means that when our farmers are working contaminated land, their bodies bear the toxic burden,” MacRoy said. “The state of Maine must stop the spreading of contaminated sewage sludge immediately.”

The Stones are suing several of the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals – including 3M and Dupont – as well as sewer districts in Kennebunk and Ogunquit. That lawsuit is still in the early stages, however, and is likely to expand as the attorneys look beyond Stoneridge Farm.

“Fred and Laura face a lifetime of  negative health consequences,” attorney Benjamin Gideon, with the firm Berman & Simmons, said in a statement. “We expected that the Stones would have elevated PFAS levels in their blood, but these numbers are shocking, particularly given that they stopped drinking the contaminated water and milk almost two years ago.”

 

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