Tackling the forever chemical problem in Maine could cost up to $20 million a year, state officials say.

That amount would pay for soil and water testing, and bottled water and filtration systems at Maine farms, factories and landfills where forever chemicals have tainted the well water, according to Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Melanie Loyzim.

And that preliminary estimate is probably too low, Loyzim warned state lawmakers Monday. It doesn’t include compensation for property owners who suffer a drop in property values or farmers whose fields have been rendered unsafe for growing crops or raising livestock.

“It’s like a nightmare you can’t wake up from,” Loyzim told the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “People’s homes and livelihoods have been destroyed and the scale of the tragedy keeps growing with every sample we take.”

Maine has just begun its investigation into the more than 700 locations across the state where sludge, septic tank sewage and industrial waste was applied to farm fields as fertilizer. The investigation of these sites, and nearby wells, will take years, Loyzim said.

The problem is hitting Maine farmers hard. A dairy farmer surrendered a herd of milking cows to the state for euthanasia and an organic farm in Unity just pulled its vegetables from market shelves after testing revealed unsafe levels of PFAS in their products, Loyzim said.


“We can quickly provide bottled water and treatment systems installed in the homes of people with contaminated wells,” Loyzim said during the two-hour briefing. “But that’s only a little thing for someone who has lost everything.”

Forever chemicals, or PFAS, are long-lasting chemicals with a unique ability to repel oil, grease and water. They can be found in industrial products like firefighting foam, and many common household items, like stain-resistant carpets or waterproof clothing.

Songbird Farm in Unity, photographed last week, has stopped sales and pulled products from retail stores since tests revealed high levels of forever chemicals in the farm’s water, soil and produce. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Potential health impacts range from immune response to an increased risk of certain kinds of cancer.

Scientific understanding of this family of fluoridated chemicals is growing every day, Loyzim said. Recent studies of PFAS’ impact on animal and human health show a much higher level of toxicity than previously believed, driving down acceptable limits and driving up remediation costs.

Two years ago, Maine spent just $56,000 on PFAS. This fiscal year, which began in July and includes the launch of the state investigation into more than 700 sites fertilized with PFAS-heavy sludge, Maine already has spent $1 million on testing, bottled water and filtration systems.

Last year, Maine passed laws that created PFAS drinking water standards that were stricter than federal ones and regulations governing their use. Gov. Janet Mills added $20 million to the budget to tackle the problem, including funds for 11 full-time and six limited-time positions.


The state plans to create a special fund to compensate farmers for a year’s worth of losses if PFAS that is left over from state-licensed sludge dispersal has rendered their land unusable, said Nancy McBrady, a deputy director of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

A reimbursement fund is especially important because the DEP has found some farmers reluctant to allow a state inspector to test for PFAS in their fields or water supply because of what high results could mean to their family business, state officials said.

The state will work with farmers to hunt for areas of their land that may still usable or crops to grow that don’t pull as much PFAS from the soil as others, she said. For example, hay soaks it up, making it a poor choice for livestock feed, but corn grain is better. Fruit crops like strawberries and tomatoes are good bets, too.

Lawmakers and advocates urged state officials to hire an assessor to estimate how much it will cost Maine to find and treat PFAS-contaminated sites and compensate landowners for their losses to give the state the data it will need to file a class-action lawsuit against chemical manufacturers.

“We must find a way to hold polluters, including the chemical manufacturers who hid the dangers of PFAS, accountable,” Patrick MacRoy of Defend Our Health, a nonprofit public health organization that advocates removing chemicals from food, said in a written statement about the briefing.

“But we must also ensure that farmers who participated in a state program that was promised to be safe aren’t left fiscally responsible for the resulting catastrophe,” MacRoy said. “Meaningful assistance and compensation must be offered while efforts to seek justice from the polluters continue.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.