Maine is the first state in the nation to ban pesticides that contain forever chemicals, a law that could force more than 1,300 pesticides to be taken off the market here.

And some fear the loss of about one of every 10 pesticides that can be sold here will have unintended consequences for Maine farmers and consumers.

The ban doesn’t kick in until 2030. But manufacturers are facing a key disclosure deadline that could hasten the market departure of some pesticide makers who conclude the cost of the testing needed to comply with this month’s reporting mandate outweighs the profits that can be made here.

That has some Maine farmers, including some of its 300 certified organic farmers, worried they soon won’t be able to defend their crops from pests or blight, said Julie Ann Smith of the Maine Farm Bureau. There is already a very limited selection of certified organic pesticides, she said.

“No organic pesticide maker is going to do PFAS testing for $5,000 a year in annual sales,” Smith said. “They’re gonna say, ‘hell, no, Maine’s not worth it’ and move on, leaving Maine farmers, especially organic farmers, without the tools we need to get our food to market.”

With their competition eliminated, pesticide makers that stay in the Maine market will probably raise prices, adding to the financial burden already facing farmers dealing with increasing labor and fertilizer costs, Smith said. Farmers are also spending money to test fields, crops and water for PFAS.


If Maine farmers can’t get their products to market, consumers will lose access to fresh locally produced food, Smith said. She pointed to studies that show fresh food packs a mightier nutrient punch than food trucked in from out of state, which can take weeks instead of days to reach consumers.

And it’s not like the food that will take its place on local tables will be safer for Mainers to eat, she said. Farmers in other states that don’t have bans on PFAS in pesticides will step in to take over that market, hurting Maine farmers without providing a health benefit to Maine consumers, Smith said.

Maine farmers will have to discontinue the use of pesticides containing forever chemicals that control blight. Some fear the loss of about one of every 10 pesticides that can be sold here will have unintended consequences for Maine farmers and consumers. File photo

The ban doesn’t go into effect until 2030, giving manufacturers seven years to see if other states will do the same, but Maine regulators are already asking the agrochemical giants behind the pesticides applied to Maine broccoli, potato and blueberry fields for product and packaging information they are reluctant to hand over.

To date, Maryland and Massachusetts are both considering a ban, but only on pesticides used in aerial mosquito spraying. Bills to do that are working their way through those states’ legislative bodies.

For now, Maine regulators are posing simple yes or no questions to pesticide makers: Do your products or their containers contain PFAS? Responses are due to the Maine Board of Pesticides Control this month, but pesticide makers are seeking extensions for filing the affidavits. They say they need a year to sort out what is in their products.

In a December letter to the board, the presidents of two major pesticide industry associations, CropLife America and Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, said a complex supply chain and reluctant upstream suppliers make a simple yes or no response to Maine’s PFAS question infeasible.


“Barriers to compliance with these requirements, even for companies granted a two-month extension, could result in supply interruptions of critical pesticide products to Maine for both the crops and professional pest control uses important for growers and public health,” the organizations argued.

Further complicating matters is developing scientific research that suggests some PFAS found in pesticides comes not from the pesticide itself or even its packaging, but from a fluoride treatment sealant applied to the container that prevents the pesticide from leaching through it.

The board and its parent agency, the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, did not respond to calls and emails about the deadline. The Department of Environmental Protection gave six-month extensions to more than a thousand businesses facing a more general PFAS reporting deadline.

PFAS are a class of over 4,000 manmade chemicals used since the 1950s in industrial and household products like waterproof clothing, non-stick cookware, and firefighting foam. They have been linked to cancer, kidney malfunction, immune system suppression, and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

These so-called forever chemicals, so named because they take so long to break down, have been found in high levels in the water, fields, and even some crops and livestock on Maine farms where sludge and septage were spread as fertilizer through a state-licensed program.

The Board of Pesticides Control doesn’t expect to finish its affidavit database of pesticides that contain PFAS until mid-2023. After reviewing a federal pesticide database, however, board toxicologists think about 1,300 of the 12,000 pesticides registered in Maine contain PFAS as an active ingredient.


The PFAS in those pesticides is not always intended to kill bugs or blight, however. In many cases, the water-repelling forever chemical is added to help the other chemicals adhere to the plants in the fields even after rain, or to facilitate an even distribution of product during application, officials say.

While some Maine farmers are concerned about the impacts, many others say the ban and the affidavits help protect Maine’s environment, farm economy and public health from the still-developing risks that are posed by forever chemicals, Smith said. PFAS has devastated many in Maine’s farming community.

“There’s nobody among us that doesn’t want action taken on PFAS, but there’s no consensus about what that action should be or when we should do it,” Smith said. “We’re breaking new ground here and there’s a lot on the line.”

She thinks a lot of pesticide makers do not know if their products or packaging contain PFAS, at least as defined by the state. Maine defines PFAS as a per or polyfluoroalkyl substance that contains one or more fluorinated carbon atoms, while federal law requires at least two fluorinated carbon atoms.

Environmental advocates like the Conservation Law Foundation and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility are urging Maine to go even further, calling on the Board of Pesticides Control to conduct independent PFAS tests on all registered pesticides rather than relying on manufacturer affidavits.

In its own testing, PEER scientists have found evidence of PFAS in pesticides that cannot be traced back to active ingredients listed on the government-mandated label, the container, or the fluorinated sealant – a finding it believes proves that growers are secretly adding PFAS to their products.

PFAS testing is expensive and takes a long time to do because few labs have the sophisticated equipment needed to test for the small amounts that could pose a threat to human health. The University of Maine is building an in-house PFAS lab to conduct research and ease the testing backlog facing state agencies.

The 2030 PFAS ban also poses a budget problem for the cash-strapped Board of Pesticides Control. It is proposing a $40 pesticide registration fee hike this year to fill a projected $560,000 budget hole created by a mix of rising software costs and negotiated personnel raises.

That’s before the projected loss of registered pesticides because of the 2030 PFAS ban, which would result in an additional $213,000 revenue loss, according to board director Megan Patterson, who testified before a state legislative committee this week.

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