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Environment and Outdoors
The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

$100 million PFAS fund for Maine farmers takes a step forward

Kevin Miller
Maine Public
Adam Nordell and Johanna Davis walk alongside one of three greenhouses the operate at Songbird Farm in Unity. The couple has suspended plans to sell organic spinach and other leafy greens from their greenhouses this winter because of the discover of PFAS contamination on their farm.

Members of a legislative committee voted unanimously Thursday to endorse a bill that would tap $100 million of Maine’s surplus to help farmers impacted by PFAS contamination.

For months, lawmakers have heard from Maine farmers whose land or water has been contaminated with the "forever chemicals" that were hidden in sludge that was spread as fertilizer through a state-licensed program. The state has begun testing more than 700 sites that potentially received materials deemed to be at higher risk of containing PFAS, typically because of an industrial contributor to the waste treatment plant that distributed the treated sludge to farmers.

The chemicals have been widely used for decades in countless household products – such as nonstick cookware, stain-repellant carpeting and grease-resistant paper food packaging – as well as firefighting foam. But a growing number of studies link some varieties of PFAS to health problems such as cancer, kidney malfunction, high cholesterol, and disruption of the endocrine system in young children.

In addition to endorsing the bill, LD 2013, members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee recommended that the Legislature’s budget-writing committee set aside $100 million of the state’s estimated $1.2 billion surplus for the PFAS fund.

“There’s no question that PFAS contamination is hurting our farms and hardworking farmers,” Sen. Jim Dill, an Old Town Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said in a statement. “Even beyond worrying about the health of their land, they’re worried about their own health. It’s an incredible amount of stress, and Maine must step up to help them.”

The funds could be used for short-term assistance, such as recouping money from lost sales, or for long-term remedies like buying out contaminated farms or helping transition to revenue streams. Lawmakers also want to pay for health monitoring for people with high levels of PFAS in their blood. The fund would be housed within the commissioner’s office at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. But recommendations on how to administer the funds would be developed by an advisory committee comprised of state officials as well as farmers, public health and financial experts.

“The Committee’s unanimous vote today sends a clear signal that Maine greatly values its farmers and that farmers impacted by PFAS will have help available to them as they navigate through an uncertain and difficult process of determining what the future will look like for their families and businesses,” Commissioner Amanda Beal of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said in a statement. “The Mills’ Administration is committed to working with the Legislature to secure the funds to create a robust program to support these farms.”

The bill now goes to the House and Senate for floor votes. If approved, the measure will have to compete for a share of the state's surplus.

Gov. Janet Mills’ office said the governor is “strongly considering dedicating one-time funding in her forthcoming change package to establish the PFAS remediation and support fund, while we also pursue Federal support and other avenues to provide sustained, long-term funding.”