Fred Stone was the first in Maine to have his Arundel dairy farm shut down due to PFAS contamination and hasn’t been able to make a living since 2017. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Some Maine farmers who were among the first to sound the alarm about PFAS in agricultural products joined peers from other states Monday to call for federal legislation to address the growing threat, clean up contaminated farmland and prevent other farmers from suffering their own fate.

Fred Stone had never heard of PFAS when he learned in 2016 that the state-licensed sewage sludge that he had used to fertilize the fields of his Arundel dairy farm for 21 years contained a chemical that would eventually rob him of his business, his happiness and his health.

“At the very beginning, we were known as the unicorn, told this didn’t happen anywhere else, but now it is starting to see national and worldwide recognition,” said Stone, who was the first Maine farmer to get shut down because of elevated levels of so-called forever chemicals in his milk.

Initially, Maine blamed Stone for the contamination, he said, but over time, after he’d tried and failed to clean up the farm on his own and gone bankrupt during the process, the state came around. It now has a robust $60 million PFAS-impacted farmer assistance program.

But Stone is scarred from his “unicorn” experience. He’s left with a mountain of bills, only a handful of his herd remaining as legacy animals, and health problems ranging from Parkinson’s disease to painful and debilitating leg swelling and scaling similar to diabetes, even though he isn’t diabetic.

Stone was one of four Maine farmers to address a national conference in Michigan focusing on PFAS in agriculture on Monday. They were joined by so-called PFAS unicorns hailing from other states, ranging from New Mexico to Colorado to the conference’s home state of Michigan.


“Quite frankly, it sucks to be first,” said beef farmer Jason Grostic, Michigan’s PFAS unicorn.

Located in a Detroit suburb, Grostic’s organic beef farm was shuttered in January of 2022 after the state found elevated levels of PFAS in his steaks and roasts. He learned sludge-based fertilizer he used to help grow his cattle’s feed most likely included PFAS-laden discharge from a local automotive supplier.

Grostic said he is Michigan’s first farmer to receive a state-issued sales ban for elevated PFAS levels. He has waited for 20 months for help from the state – what to do to clean up the contamination or financial assistance to avoid bankruptcy – but he is left with cows he cannot butcher and land that he cannot farm.

Adam Nordell visits the family farm in Unity he used to operate with his partner, but after testing for staggeringly high levels of PFAS, he had to shut it down. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The state has paid for his cattle feed, but he has sold off everything else he owns to feed his family.

“I’m in a very frustrating situation with no end in sight, and quite frankly it is embarrassing,” he told the home-state crowd at the conference. “Look at what Maine has done, what they’re doing for their farmers, and it’s night and day.”

That is why farmers took a break from the conference to join former Unity farmer Adam Nordell to call for the creation of a federal safety net to help keep PFAS-impacted farmers healthy and in business. The trio – Nordell, Stone and Grostic – all have shut down their operations because of elevated PFAS levels.


“This is not just an issue in Maine, this is hitting farms around the country,” Nordell said.

Maine will host a local version of Michigan State University’s PFAS conference Nov. 7 at Colby College.

The per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals collectively known as PFAS have been widely used in consumer products and industrial compounds since the 1940s. They create nonstick surfaces on cookware, allow jackets or carpets to repel water, and are used to make paper or food packaging grease-resistant.

But the strong chemical bonds that create those sought-after qualities in consumer products also mean PFAS linger in the environment and “bioaccumulate” in the human body. A growing number of studies have linked PFAS to cancer, thyroid disruptions and other health problems.

Not all farmers walk away from farming after testing positive for PFAS. Some, like Jim Buckle, of Unity, can recover and eventually put their farm back into production, but only with financial assistance from the government and farming support groups to keep the farm afloat during the costly cleanup.



The vegetable and orchard farmer learned that the well water they drink and used to irrigate their farm was contaminated by PFAS last spring, even though they were at least a mile and a half away from any farm that had ever spread sewage sludge as a fertilizer on their fields, Buckle said in a prerecorded video.

The good news was that their soil was not contaminated. Forever chemicals can be removed from water by a filtration system like the one the state paid to install at Buckle Farm, but there isn’t a commercially viable way to remove PFAS from soil yet.

Unfortunately, the news came at a bad time – Buckle had just spent $30,000 in seeds and fertilizers but couldn’t grow the crops needed to recoup the investment or turn a profit. State and private funds helped to keep the lights on that first year, Buckle said.

The farm has struggled to recover lost market share this summer despite clean water and crops, he said. Even though he knows he is lucky – it was only his water that was contaminated and he lives in Maine, a state with a PFAS impact fund – he doesn’t think he’ll wake up from his PFAS nightmare until next year.

He repeatedly emphasized the stress that PFAS has put upon Maine’s farming community.

“A contamination is a very factual thing: we have this problem in the well and we have this filter that will remove it,” Buckle said. “But the sort of damage of not having contaminated your own farm but having to clean up somebody else’s mess is really, really challenging.”


Maine’s federal lawmakers introduced House and Senate versions of the Relief for Farmers Hit By PFAS Act in March. The bills authorize up to $500 million in federal grants over five years for states to pay for PFAS testing and remediation, research, and financial and medical assistance for impacted farmers.

The bills are intended to be folded into the upcoming U.S. Farm Bill, which expired at the end of last month but is in limbo, like so much other government business, as House Republicans struggle to elect a speaker in the wake of California Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ouster.

In the meantime, the agriculture committees in both the House and Senate are sifting through members’ requests. It is unclear how much support the bills have among Republicans, despite the Senate measure being introduced by Maine Republican Susan Collins.

On the House side, Democrats are fighting to defend about $50 million in existing climate and nutrition programs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s internal bank, all of which were funded by the recently expired Farm Bill.


Until then, states are on their own, with other states and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture looking to Maine as a leader on this topic. A USDA regulator at the conference said they are awarding Maine a $5 million grant for PFAS research because of that leadership role.


Maine will use the $5 million to support farm infrastructure improvements, fund agricultural research on PFAS, advance the development of PFAS testing methodologies, and build educational materials to guide farmers in Maine and across the country on how to handle PFAS contamination.

“This substantial grant is a critical next step in our collective efforts to combat PFAS contamination, helping advance our nation-leading response to PFAS to protect our farms, communities and future,” said Amanda Beal, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Maine is on the front lines of PFAS legislation. Last year, after a string of farms connected to the state’s decades-old sludge spreading program shut down because of PFAS contamination, Maine became the first state to ban sludge recycling and PFAS in nonessential products.

According to state officials, Maine has discovered 54 farms contaminated by PFAS from sewage sludge used to fertilize agricultural fields. It used to be a widespread practice, permitted by the state as a way to recycle municipal biosolids – and it still goes on in many parts of the country.

The state is now investigating about 1,100 sites sludge spreading sites found in state records dating to the 1970s. According to state agriculture spokesman Jim Britt, 25 farms exceeded the state’s interim drinking water standard and 44 farms exceeded the state soil screening level to grow hay or corn silage. Fifteen farms have both contaminated fields and wells.

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