Recently the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act was recognized. No resource is more vital to our health and way of life than water. We rely on it daily, not just for drinking but for washing and cooking, cleaning and gardening, growing crops and raising livestock. Unfortunately, it can be easy to forget how precious a resource it is and that keeping our water clean is one of our most important responsibilities.

Every year, more and more dangerous chemicals are used and released into our environment. Some of that waste eventually reaches our rivers, lakes and bays. Sometimes these chemicals find their way into our bodies through drinking water or through fish we eat; other times, the chemicals end up in soil and are absorbed by plants and taken up by animals.

This past legislative session, we worked to mitigate the harmful effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often referred to as PFAS. PFAS are considered “forever chemicals,” meaning that these substances are permanent in our environment and bodies. They don’t break down, but instead accumulate over time with continued exposure. As a result, PFAS exposure can lead to severe adverse health effects. These forever chemicals are commonly found in consumer and industrial products, such as plastics, cosmetics, clothing, food packaging and more.

The cycle begins with landfills sending their PFAS-contaminated runoff to treatment facilities, which then transfer PFAS-contaminated wastewater into rivers and truck their PFAS-contaminated sludge back to landfills. The rivers often serve as a source of drinking water, and PFAS-contaminated drinking water is then returned to treatment facilities, which starts the cycle all over again.

Many Maine farmers are being swamped by PFAS contamination. The outdated practice of applying PFAS-contaminated bio-solids from treatment facilities to fields as a fertilizer has been a major contributor to the cycle of PFAS-contaminated water. To prevent further pollution of PFAS, the Legislature passed a bill to stop hazardous bio-solids from being spread on fields.

In 2021, we invested $27 million to create 20 new positions and provide all the equipment and training necessary for the cleanup and remediation of PFAS. The new positions will help to manage contaminated areas, supervise environmental testing and treat drinking water.

The risks of PFAS and how to address them are a developing landscape, with new information being discovered all the time. Because of this, we knew it was essential to promote research and future mitigation efforts to stay on top of this crisis. That is why this year we created a new $60 million PFAS Trust Fund that will assist new research and removal efforts and compensate farm businesses that need to move when remediation is not practical.

This new fund, called the Fund to Address PFAS Contamination, is managed by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. An advisory committee, composed of legislators, experts and members of the community, will make recommendations to the department on how the funds should be spent.

Preventing PFAS from entering our ecosystem and removing PFAS where possible are important steps to ending this crisis. We also must be diligent in how we test for and share data about PFAS. A statewide testing effort has begun to determine what farmland has been impacted. You can learn more here: maine.gov/dep/spills/topics/pfas/. If you believe your land has been contaminated or if you live near a DEP-licensed sludge or septage land application site, please reach out here about getting your well tested: maine.gov/dep/spills/topics/pfas/fairfield/well-test-request.html

Maine is leading the fight against forever chemicals as one of the first states to take significant steps toward PFAS remediation. We are actively working to safeguard ourselves, our ecosystem, and the health of our water. Despite our progress, I know there is still more work to be done to protect our natural resources for future generations. I’m committed to standing with our farmers and protecting their livelihoods.

If you or someone you know needs assistance here in Waldo County, wants to discuss legislation, or needs help connecting with a state agency, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My email is Chip.Curry@legislature.maine.gov, my office phone number is 287-1515, and you can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/SenatorCurry. To receive regular updates, sign up for my e-newsletter at mainesenate.org.

Democratic state Sen. Glenn “Chip” Curry of Belfast has just been reelected to a second term representing Waldo County in Augusta.