AUGUSTA — Representatives from three local small farms, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Defend our Health, Maine Farmland Trust and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy spoke on behalf of a bill addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminating farms at a press conference Feb. 23. Independent Rep. William Pluecker of Warren, who represents District 95, also spoke at the event. Also attending was Sen. Chip Curry, D-Waldo.

Pluecker presented the bill, An Act To Prohibit the Contamination of Clean Soils with So-called Forever Chemicals, which would prohibit the use of sludge compost containing PFAS and require sludge to be tested for PFAS before distribution. The bill is still in language review in the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

“PFAS” refers to a group of synthetic chemicals widely used in various manufactured products, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s website. The chemicals break down very slowly and can have adverse health effects in humans. Sludge and septage containing PFAS has been used as fertilizer on farm fields.

The press conference was broadcast live on Facebook outside the State House, where several people spoke in favor of the bill and tried to correct misunderstandings about it.

Pluecker said the corporation producing the sludge products spread on Maine fields wants to keep spreading the contamination. It is attempting to scare people by saying it will close down its facilities. He called upon all legislators to pass the bill to protect food, farmers and the future. “They think their bottom-line profits are more important than the health of our children, our food, soil, water or deer,” he said.

Adrienne Lee of New Beat Farm in Knox spoke alongside her husband, Ken Lamson, and their daughter about the impacts PFAS is having on their farm and their family. Their well water tested positive for the substances at a level 100 times above safe drinking water standards, Lee said. The federal EPA has set 70 parts per trillion as the upper threshold for PFAS in drinking water, while in June 2021 the Maine Legislature established an interim state drinking water standard of 20 nanograms per liter for the combined sum of six different PFAS substances: PFOA, PFOS, PFHpA, PFNA, PFDA and PFHxS, according to maine.gov.

“In a matter of weeks our business went from forecasting for record growth in 2022 to the insecurity about being able to pay our bills or to see a path forward for this season,” she said.

The farm had been growing organic vegetables, cut flowers and pasture-raised lamb until recently when Lee and Lamson received the PFAS results on their property. Once they learned their well was polluted with the chemicals, they pulled all of their products from the market.

They started drinking bottled water and stopped giving their daughter baths, because they were afraid she would inadvertently ingest the contaminated water, she said. The state is working with the family to put a filtration system in their well. Now they are working on behalf of the bill so no other farmers are harmed by PFAS sludge.

Brendan Holmes of Misty Brook Farm in Albion told about having to pull contaminated milk from store shelves after he learned the feed he had given to his livestock contained PFAS. He said it is not just his family that is affected, but also his employees and their families. Two of his sons are interested in taking over the family farm someday, and he called upon legislators to stop the spreading of contaminated sludge.

“The question is, is the Legislature going to make the right decision so there is clean land in this state for the next generation of farmers?” he said. “Without a 12- and a 14-year-old wanting to learn, what’s your plan? We need that next generation; they’re watching. Are you going to make the right decision?”

MOFGA Executive Director Sarah Alexander said Maine is not the only state facing this issue, but Maine is further ahead in responding to the issue by testing water and soil and addressing contamination when it is found. However, she added, the state needs to go further to prevent future contamination by passing this bill.

“In order to address this whole, we have to shut off the PFAS tap now,” she said. “We must prevent additional contamination and the impacts to farmers feeding our local communities by passing LD 1911.”