When he first heard of forever chemicals, Henry Perkins didn’t expect it to be a problem for his Albion dairy farm because it had been more than 25 years since he had fertilized the fields of Bull Ridge Farm with state-licensed municipal sludge.

Maine touted the program as a way farmers could boost their yields while assisting municipalities.

“I was doing a good civic deed,” Perkins said. “Everyone I talked to assured me that it was completely safe and my crop would grow like the magic beans in the Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale. It didn’t turn out that way. … Now I feel like my farm is a nuclear waste site.”

On Tuesday, the 70-year-old joined a growing chorus of Maine farmers asking the state to help them survive the financial and medical fallout from the half-century practice of spreading sludge contaminated with dangerous per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS.

The long-lasting chemicals repel oil, grease and water. They can be found in industrial products like firefighting foam, and common household items such as stain-resistant carpets, waterproof clothing and non-stick cookware.

Potential health impacts range from decreased immune response to an increased risk of certain cancers.


State lawmakers are considering the creation of a $100 million fund to help those farmers pay for PFAS water and soil tests, and to cover crop and herd losses caused by PFAS contamination, water and soil cleanup, farm relocation or outright buyouts, and long-term healthcare.

Dozens of farmers testified in favor of the bill, L.D. 2013, before the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, as did Amanda Beal, the state agriculture commissioner. The biggest concerns raised came from those who worried that $100 million would not be enough, or be handed out fast enough, to save Maine’s farming industry.

“We need the people of Maine as much as the people of Maine need us,” said dairy farmer Jenni Tilton-Flood, a partner on her family’s 1,500-cow dairy farm in Clinton. “This financial note is enormous. The ask is overwhelming. The scope is broad. But when has a lifeboat ever been too big?”

Farmers talked about the enormous pressure that even the possibility of PFAS contamination can cause. Ben Whalen of Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Windham is still waiting for test results that will tell him if the sludge spread on a nearby farm has tainted the property he bought seven years ago.

“At that time, we had no idea that we should be looking at sludge maps or be concerned about a Tier 1 site across the street that might be leaching cancer-causing chemicals into the water that we use to irrigate and wash our crops,” Whalen told the committee.

Farmers also asked the state to do more testing to determine what are acceptable levels of PFAS in their products. Some are voluntarily pulling their crops from the shelves when a water test comes back higher than the state drinking water standard, but that doesn’t mean every crop grown on every part of a farm is unsafe.


Farming groups like Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Maine Farmland Trust are banding together to raise money to create a short-term financial safety net to help affected farmers stay afloat until the state can set up a long-term relief fund.

Financial support for the nine farms that have come forward to report serious PFAS contamination of water, soil and crops could surpass $10 million, MOFGA said. The cost of buying out farms in the 35 areas deemed most likely to be contaminated could run as high as $50 million.

The creation of a relief fund would encourage farmers who have been too afraid to test their fields and wells on their own to cooperate with the state if their property is identified as a former sludge disposal site, farmers said. Widespread testing would reassure consumers about the safety of locally grown food.

The state has estimated it will spend at least $20 million a year on its PFAS investigation of more than 700 properties where sludge fertilizer was used. That estimate doesn’t include income replacement or farm buyouts, which the state has promised to do, or long-term health monitoring for farmers’ families.

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