Sewage sludge, the semi-solid byproduct of wastewater treatment plants, was spread on Maine farm fields as fertilizer under a state-approved recycling program. Now the state is compensating farmers for PFAS contamination caused by the sludge spreading. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Maine has so far awarded about $1 million to farmers hurt by forever chemical contamination caused by the state’s former sewage sludge recycling program, with almost all of the money being used to reimburse four individual farms for income lost since the contamination was discovered.

And three farmers have so far applied for state buyouts because of varying levels of contamination, although it’s not yet clear how much the state might spend to purchase those properties.

The Fund to Address PFAS Contamination isn’t releasing any details about applications for a share of its $70 million budget. Fund Director Beth Valentine has declined to identify farms because “this is all very new.” Instead, she shared aggregated information about the applications.

As of Friday, three months after it first began accepting applications, the fund has received 24 requests for funding, ranging from four business planning and marketing grants to six income replacement applications to the three farm buyout requests.

The fund has awarded $1,032,928 so far, Valentine said, including:

• $45,786 to 13 farms for payment of the farmer’s time spent addressing contamination


• $950,578 to four farms for income lost due to contamination

• $36,564 to help four farms with business planning and marketing.

Valentine said more documentation is needed before taking action on two other lost income requests.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are called forever chemicals because they can linger in the environment for decades. Even trace amounts have been linked to compromised immune systems, low birth weights and several types of cancer.

The fund budget – $60 million in state funds and $10 million in likely federal funds – is split into pieces: about $30 million in grants to get farmers back on their feet, $21.5 million in compensation for contaminated land, $7.3 million for medical needs, and $11.2 million for scientific research.

The fund’s land advisory panel began reviewing three buyout requests last month, but this will likely take much longer than other grant reviews because the panel must obtain three appraisals and develop a property management plan before offering a buyout.


The three farms are in the appraisal phase now, Valentine said. Under state law, the state must pay the impacted farmer what the land would be worth without contamination. Maine farmland is valued at about $2,860 an acre, with land in the south and on the coast worth more, according to federal data.

Valentine said two of the farms could still be used for agriculture. For example, one hay farmer wants to sell a farm that is no longer safe to grow dairy feed but could still support other crops. The subcommittee may try to resell the land to another farmer with an easement forbidding hay production.

Some farmland may be too contaminated for conservation or recreational use, much less agricultural reuse. In those cases, the subcommittee would have to adopt a management plan – mowing it, keeping it posted – until scientists eventually find a way to clean the tainted soil.


By the end of 2024, the PFAS Fund is scheduled to launch additional programs, including a competitive research grant program, a program to cover PFAS blood serum testing costs not covered by insurance and a program to provide access to mental health services for eligible individuals.

The fund is soliciting the contractors it needs to start accepting applications for mental health assistance and blood testing, Valentine said.


These will be the only fund grants available to non-farmers. Eligibility will be limited to people whose drinking water was contaminated by tainted agricultural fertilizer spread at one of Maine’s estimated 1,100 sludge-spreading sites. The state is halfway through its sludge investigation.

Currently, only people whose drinking water tests above 20 parts per trillion for the six forever chemicals that Maine tracks are eligible to apply for any of the PFAS Fund’s $70 million, but Valentine said that will drop to between 4 and 10 ppt, depending on the chemical, for five chemicals if Maine adopts the strict new federal limits.

The PFAS blood test results would be reportable, much like pediatric lead test results are now, to make it possible for toxicologists at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to follow up on elevated test results to educate individuals about how to limit exposure.

The fund was created by the Legislature in 2022 to help Maine farmers, farmworkers and those who live near them whose lives have been upended by toxic chemicals left behind by a now-defunct state-approved sludge-spreading program that dates to the 1970s.

The PFAS Fund will supplement the agriculture department’s existing PFAS response program, a first-in-the-nation campaign to work directly with farmers whose water or fields test positive for PFAS contamination. In most instances, contaminated farms can find a way to remain viable.

To date, Maine has identified 59 PFAS-contaminated farms, state officials say. Of those, only four have closed. The rest have remained in operation by changing their feed source, installing water filtration systems or switching to a crop that is not susceptible to PFAS uptake.

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