AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills is proposing to add another $9 million in state dollars to the fight against “forever chemicals” in Maine, with over third of that funding going to improved testing as the scope of the contamination becomes more worrisome.
The focus on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — has become heightened as increased testing has shown the chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems have been found in hundreds of farm sites where sludge or papermaking waste containing the toxins was spread. PFAS is also being found in high concentrations in certain landfills.
It amounts to a massive health and economic threat in Maine, with the chemicals turning up in wild game, domestic animals and produce, causing some farmers to pull products from shelves. A diverse group of interests from environmentalists to sportsmen have called for an ambitious state response to the emerging problem.
The proposed investment from Mills comes as state officials estimate it could cost tens of millions of dollars a year to simply detect and remediate contamination of land and water. It is on top of $30 million already in the budget dedicated to testing and mitigation efforts. State officials are now testing sites thought to be most at risk for contamination, a process that will take years.
In addition to a one-time $3 million expense to help abate PFAS hazards and support research into the chemicals, the Democratic governor included another $4.2 million into new testing equipment and adding new positions to increase the state response.
New positions include five new agricultural bureau positions and three at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the focuses are outreach, data management and a veterinarian dedicated to assessing farm animals in places where PFAS has been found.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine was one of the key interest groups lobbying for PFAS to be a focus in Mills’ $850 million plan to spend down most of a massive state surplus. The money will help Maine find the depth of the problem and allow the state to be at the forefront of a likely national fight against PFAS, said David Trahan, the group’s executive director.
“I think Maine’s positioned now to be ahead of the other states that are just figuring out that they’ve got a real problem,” he said.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.