A program established to help Maine farms recover from the devastating effects of PFAS contamination needs more money, lawmakers were told recently.

Adam Nordell used to operate Songbird Farm in Unity, but after testing revealed high levels of PFAS in the water, the soil and their own blood, he and his wife had to shut down their operation a little over a year ago. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

That shouldn’t be a problem – and it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The PFAS Emergency Fund was created by the Legislature and given an initial $60 million with the understanding that the extent of contamination statewide was not yet known and that more money would likely be necessary as more poisoned properties were discovered.

As the number of affected farms grows, so too does the state’s obligation to make them whole. In the end, it is going to be costly to the state. But considering the origins of the problem, giving Maine farmers as much as they need is the only reasonable way forward.

It was the state itself that for years offered sludge from wastewater treatment facilities as an inexpensive fertilizer. It wasn’t until 2016, when a dairy farmer in Arundel discovered that his milk was tainted with PFAS, that they began questioning the practice.

PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, and also known as “forever chemicals,” are used in a variety of industrial products, including stain-resistant carpets, non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing.


The chemicals can leach off those surfaces and into the environment, where they can build up in soil and groundwater, and from there into the sludge that was spread over untold acres of farmland, not only in Maine but also across the country.

High concentrations of PFAS have been found in milk and eggs from Maine farms. It’s been found in deer and fish, among other wildlife.

Where contamination is found, farmers not only lose the ability to sell the harvest that they now know is tainted, but they also must worry about their own health and that of their family.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency,  a number of health effects have been attributed to PFAS exposure, including decreased fertility and high blood pressure in pregnant women; developmental delays in children; increase of some cancers and a reduced ability to fight infections.

At one farm in Fairfield where sludge was spread, the drinking water tested at 740 times the state standard for safety. Adam Nordell, a farmer in Unity, told the Press Herald that his blood tested at about 3,500 parts per billion, when the level for elevated risk is just 20 parts per billion.

“It’s so hard to think about the future,” Nordell said. “Am I going to get sick? Is my wife going to get sick? Is my child going to get sick?”


The state is about halfway through a review of 1,100 sites in Maine where sludge was spread as fertilizer, having so far found 56 farms with high levels of PFAS.

Each contaminated farm represents a personal and professional disaster for the family that owns it. Together, the loss of the farms is a big hit to our agricultural industry.

The PFAS Emergency Fund will help mitigate the fallout. The committee charged with dispersing the funds, made up of farmers, lawmakers, scientists and industry members, is now deciding how the money will be spent. There will be a June 12 hearing on the plan before a final version is sent to the state on July 10.

The word from the committee so far is encouraging. The fund would allow the state to buy contaminated farms at a price that reflects their value without PFAS. It would also replace up to two years of lost wages for the farmers, and pay those farmers to help put the land back to work.

That could mean waiting until the PFAS clears the soil through remediation, or transitioning to a PFAS-resistant crop. It could be paying for feed for cattle to take the place of grazing, or perhaps some other use, such as a solar farm.

To do this work over the next five years, the committee says it needs an additional $20 million, making some farmers wonder whether there will be enough money around when they need it.

The state should cast that equivocation aside and tell farmers that they will get whatever it takes.

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