News of contamination from PFAS “forever chemicals” across Maine has dominated headlines recently.

The impact of PFAS-containing sludge spread on Maine’s farmlands emerged as a local threat to food safety in 2019 when contamination shuttered a dairy farm in Arundel. Since then, ongoing research has exposed the ubiquitous nature of PFAS in Maine, while affirming the chemicals’ persistence in the environment and toxicity to human health. While this information can feel overwhelming, the state and our farmers are demonstrating tremendous leadership despite a lack of action at the federal level.

The state’s septage and sludge site map can be used to gain insight into the magnitude of PFAS contamination, but we must understand the tool’s faults. The map, which is being updated as sites are identified, indicates permitted sites – not spreading locations – and a permit does not guarantee that spreading took place.

The sites that spread biosolids containing industrial waste are of highest concern. Testing of water, soil and agricultural products is necessary to assess contamination in an area. It is also important to remember that contamination of farms is largely an inherited legacy resulting from spreading conducted decades ago. Unfortunately, sludge is still spread today and to end this practice, and curb further PFAS contamination, the Legislature should pass L.D. 1911.

The state is currently identifying and testing sites based on a tiered system of potential contamination, but the process will take years to complete. Meanwhile, Maine farms are on the frontlines of ensuring food safety. Rather than waiting, many farmers are testing for PFAS contamination on their own. This is both expensive and risky.

There are no federal tolerances for PFAS levels in food, and the state is therefore developing thresholds on a crop-by-crop basis. This means that farmers who learn their crops, land and/or water have high levels of PFAS don’t have many resources to determine the best next step. Despite this, farmers are demonstrating they have the broader community’s best interests at heart by working to ensure a safe food supply.


PFAS contamination in agriculture is not specific to Maine – 32 states are currently weighing PFAS-related bills and late last month, beef was recalled in Michigan for containing high levels of PFAS – and most of us are exposed to PFAS each day through common products including personal-care items, water-repellent clothing, stain-repellent furniture and carpets, and grease-resistant food packaging. High levels of PFAS in the body are the result of consumption over time, not a single incident, and contaminated drinking water is the source of primary concern. Emerging research suggests that eating a diverse diet is likely to reduce exposure, as different crops uptake varying levels of PFAS.

We’ve seen multiple instances of farms proactively testing and voluntarily pulling products from distribution, even though they are not required to do so in the absence of established food safety standards. These farmers are exhibiting immense courage and initiative at the threat of their businesses’ survival. They should be met with gratitude and compassion. The emotional toll of learning not only about contamination to the land, and the subsequent threat to their livelihoods, but also their own health and well-being cannot be underestimated.

To support our farmers, we all must step up and demand federal action to set national levels for PFAS tolerances in food, amend national agricultural programs to help farmers, and develop legislation to prevent future contamination while holding manufacturers accountable. Federal action will take time, so we need Gov. Janet Mills’ administration to prioritize and expand state resources for testing, lost revenue for farm businesses, counseling and mitigation infrastructure.

As they ramp up for another growing season, Maine’s farmers are taking steps to ensure we have the safest food supply in the country. Let’s trust, thank and support them for their leadership.

— Special to the Press Herald

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