For over a century, Fred Stone and his family have operated Stoneridge Farm in Arundel. Their 100-acre dairy farm has provided the Stones with both a source of pride and a source of income for three generations. For years, Fred had fertilized his fields with sludge that, unbeknownst to him, had been contaminated with industrial chemicals called PFAS. The PFAS contaminated the hay, water and milk, making it undrinkable. In a matter of months, and after Fred went into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt in attempts to remediate this crisis, his source of livelihood was stripped from him. The presence of PFAS robbed Stoneridge Farm of its business, and it has the potential to affect the health and income of Mainers in every corner of our state.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are pervasive in the United States. Considered “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down, these toxic substances have been linked to a number of health problems. This includes low infant birth weights, higher rates of cancer, hormone disruption and effects on the immune system.

Exposure to PFAS is nearly unavoidable. All of us are exposed to PFAS through products that we use in everyday life. PFAS have been found in food packaging and Teflon cooking products, as well as in stain resistant fabrics and carpets. PFAS have been used in many industrial manufacturing applications and on military bases.

It’s clear that government action is needed to curb the impacts of these toxic chemicals. In the first regular session of the 129th Legislature, L.D. 1433, which phases out these chemicals in food packaging, was passed and signed into law.

We are encouraged by the work of the PFAS Task Force appointed by the governor and are looking forward to reading the report that they will be issuing later this year. We are disappointed that the bond bill proposed by the governor, which could have helped water and sewer utilities manage the disposal of PFAS-contaminated sludge, was defeated in the special session. Public health and the increased costs to water and sewer district rate-payers for the disposal of contaminated sludge should not be a partisan issue.

It was very heartening to hear that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently proposed listing PFOS, a subset of the PFAS family, as a “priority chemical.” While it would not prohibit the use of PFOS in products, it would require that manufacturers inform the DEP whether products contain the chemical, its concentration levels and its function in the product.

At the federal level, the Department of Defense has been reacting to contamination of groundwater on military bases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been slower to react. In order to really address contamination levels, the EPA needs to step up and set approved analytical methods for testing for PFAS in soil so that there is a standardized measure. There are new chemicals in this class being introduced into the market, and we’d like to see them regulated as a class so we aren’t continually playing regulatory catch-up. Additionally, we hope that the federal government will consider designation of PFAS as a hazardous substance, making federal cleanup dollars available.

In the absence of leadership by the EPA, states are taking action and we should continue to work at the state level in order to find solutions. Some states, including Washington and Maine, have enacted legislation to limit or ban PFAS in different ways. Among other state actions are bans on the use of PFAS-containing fire retardant foam for training purposes, designating PFAS as hazardous and setting limits for PFAS in public drinking supplies. Other states, like New Hampshire, Vermont and Michigan, are suing the chemical companies.

Let’s be clear: The events at Stoneridge Farm are not an isolated incident. Without government action, Fred Stone’s story will be repeated in other communities and industries. To protect the health of our families and support the economic well-being of our communities, we must stop the use of these toxic substances and we must take action to prevent additional contamination.

 


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