State lawmakers are considering a bill to ban sludge recycling and spreading to protect Maine farms from so-called forever chemicals, but opponents, including some farmers, argue that not all sludge is dangerous and that its safe use helps keep farming and sewer costs down.

The bill aims to end the decades-old practice of recycling state-licensed municipal sludge from wastewater treatment plants into fertilizer to enrich Maine farmlands. The sludge has since been linked to contaminated well water, fields, crops and milk in dairy herds that grazed on sludge-fertilized lands. The chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, also have been found in deer and freshwater fish in Maine.

Some Maine farmers have asked the state to ban sludge spreading and help clean up the contamination that past use has left behind. Impacted farmers have had to pull their products off the market, cull their herds, install water filters and stop farming, at least for now.

But on Tuesday, a group of farmers and wastewater treatment operators that calls itself the Maine Work Boots Alliance came to the State House to warn lawmakers against a “knee-jerk, misguided reaction” to all sludge recycling and farm use.

Standing outside the Capitol Building, the group asked lawmakers to narrow the ban at the heart of L.D. 1911 so that it only prohibits the recycling or land application of sludge with unsafe levels of PFAS.

“No Maine farmer wants to contaminate their land,” said Courtney Hammond, a third-generation blueberry farmer in Harrington and past president of Maine Farm Bureau. “What we are looking for is a science based approach to monitoring for these PFAS levels.”


A ban would force farmers to buy expensive chemical fertilizers, which would drive up food costs, Hammond said. The wastewater treatment operators that produce sludge said they would have to landfill it instead, inflating operating costs and user fees.

Hammond said the price of chemical fertilizers has more than doubled over the last two years. The cost of landfilling all sludge, plus rising fuel and power prices, would likely raise sewer fees in the Scarborough Sanitary District by 20 percent, Superintendent David Hughes said.

Some of the landfills that Maine operators would send their sludge to are located out of state, where there is no sludge recycling ban. Maine sludge would likely end up spread on those farms, lowering their costs, and end up in crops, meat and milk imported back into Maine, Hughes said.

The group likened PFAS to arsenic in drinking water or radon in basements – people can lead healthy lives with some arsenic in their drinking water and some radon in their basement, as long as it falls within governmental standards. They argued that some level of PFAS in farm-spread sludge is likely OK, but didn’t say what amount.

PFAS are a class of over 4,000 manmade chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in industrial and household products such as stain-resistant carpets, waterproof clothing, non-stick cookware and in firefighting foam. The properties that make PFAS so useful also mean the chemicals do not readily break down in the environment or the body, hence the nickname “forever chemicals.”

Some compounds have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer, kidney malfunction, immune system suppression and high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.



Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, said there is no such thing as farming-safe sludge, at least not yet, because science has yet to determine how much PFAS is acceptable in all crops, meats and fish. State and federal authorities can’t even agree on safe drinking water levels.

Because they don’t break down, PFAS also build up over time.

“Now that we know that PFAS chemicals accumulate and are persistent in our soil and water, and that so much of this contamination is directly linked to sludge, we simply can’t afford to continue spreading sludge that contains PFAS,” said Amy Fisher of Maine Farmland Trust.

She added: “The decisions we make today can have far-reaching consequences.”

Some lawmakers, like Sen. Richard Bennett, R-Oxford, suggested the Maine Work Boots Alliance was a front for sludge profiteers like Casella, the waste management company that operates the state-run Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, with some farmers thrown in for window dressing.

Pluecker thinks some farmers are worried the attention focused on PFAS “might harm the Maine brand,” but he believes the best way to protect the Maine brand, and the Maine farmer, is to show the public that Maine is doing all it can to protect its food production.

The state has estimated it will spend at least $20 million a year on its PFAS investigation of more than 700 properties where potentially tainted sludge was used to fertilize fields. Gov. Janet Mills has earmarked $60 million in her supplemental budget for a PFAS relief fund for farmers.

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