Maine farmers will be able to get financial help to deal with the impact that contamination from “forever chemicals” have had on their livelihoods.
An emergency relief fund, established by the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association and Maine Farmland Trust, will provide some financial support to allow farmers to pay for initial PFAS testing, should they choose to do so. The fund will also provide short-term income replacement for those who have been affected by PFAS contamination.
Funding for PFAS testing will be made available through grants, starting on March 1.
As part of the goal to recognize communities most impacted by PFAS, Maine’s indigenous farmers will be prioritized in the testing support program, but the program is open to any Maine farmer who may be impacted by the presence of “forever chemicals” on their property.
Income replacement grants are now open to those who wish to apply, and information on those grants has been made available on the Maine Farmland Trust website.
“Farmers are now facing a threat that they never imagined when they got into farming. Their farms are contaminated with PFAS from the land applications of sewage and industrial sludge,” said Sarah Alexander, executive director of MOFGA. “PFAS contamination is a threat to the health of the people on these farms, this is a threat to the businesses they have built and it’s a threat to our food safety. That’s why we’re partnering to offer this funding to support our farms during a very difficult time.”
Across the state, farmers are already feeling the impact of PFAS contamination. Earlier this year, Songbird Farms in Unity stopped offering its products after finding high levels of “forever chemicals” in the soil and water at the property.
“I need to know if what we are eating is safe or if down the road we can have a little farm stand,” April Turner, who owns a small homestead, told the Bangor Daily News. “But once we do get tested, what can of worms does that open?”
The chemicals — perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are known as “forever chemicals” because of how long they take to completely break down in the environment and in the human body. They are used in industrial and household products and have been found to pose health risks in humans.
With few guidelines on how to proceed when soil and water test for high levels of forever chemicals, farmers in Maine are left with only more questions if they do test positive for contaminants. For now, the only thing the state can offer is bottled water and filtration if high levels of the toxins are found in groundwater.
There are no federal food safety guidelines when it comes to PFAS and PFOS in food. Absent that, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is taking steps to test food safety thresholds product-by-product, a process that could take years. To date, Maine milk and beef have been tested and threshold guidelines established.