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Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, serves on the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. He is the sponsor of LD 1911. Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, serves on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He is a co-sponsor of the bill.

A recent editorial from the Bangor Daily News called for action from Maine on stopping the spread of “forever chemicals” in our land and groundwater. As legislators, we certainly agree that there is a tough road ahead in the fight against these chemicals, gaining notoriety due to their persistence and inability to be broken down once released into the environment. Yet, there is legislation that can be passed and work that can be done to stop the spreading of the chemicals and help to prevent further damage to our farmland.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — are linked to serious negative health impacts, including several types of cancer and decreased immune response. A major source of PFAS in Maine is the application of industrial or municipal sludge on farmland. Since the Portland nonprofit Defend Our Health shared information about the contamination of Stoneridge Farm in 2019, contamination has been discovered on at least nine family farms and hundreds of residential wells.

Affected farmers are speaking out in support of legislation and are urging legislators to take action to stop the continued spread of PFAS-contaminated sludge and sludge-derived compost on farmland. We’ve heard from these farmers that they don’t want other farmers to experience the fear and devastation that they are currently facing. We should listen to them. Right now, there is a bill we are sponsoring — LD 1911, An Act To Prohibit the Contamination of Clean Soils with So-called Forever Chemicals — that would ban the spreading of these toxic chemicals on farmland.  

While we recognize that there is some concern among municipalities about landfill capacity, we can address those. In fact, during the legislative work session on this bill, Paula Clark, the director of the Division of Materials Management at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, stated: “I think the landfill capacity exists to accept it. I don’t think that it would cause the landfills to all of a sudden be depleted of capacity as a result of this.” Landfilling is the best option at this point. Polluting clean soil with dirty sludge is not a solution, especially as we continue to identify health concerns for PFAS at lower levels.

Some opponents to the bill, like Casella, which operates Hawk Ridge composting facility, want us to accept the poor logic that contaminated composted sludge can safely be applied to clean land and that their dirty compost will only be used in places not already contaminated. Both assumptions quickly fall apart under scrutiny. As we learn more about PFAS, the levels considered “safe” continue to fall, and even the Department of Environmental Protection admitted their current standards are outdated based on the more stringent water quality standards passed last year. Additionally, farmers and gardeners who purchase this compost will likely spread the material on their land year after year over the same sections of their property, meaning they may well already be contaminated.

LD 1911 has the support of various advocacy groups, including Defend Our Health,  Maine Public Health Association,  Maine Farmland Trust and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. This bill addresses health and equity issues that are far too often at the crux of the impacts of PFAS.

PFAS contamination is not a partisan issue. The Legislature has come together many times to pass legislation to help deal with problems caused by this toxic chemical. LD 1911 will go hand in hand with detection and remediation efforts that the state is already engaging in to mitigate the problem. We should come together again to help protect our farmers. We urge our colleagues to support this important legislation and help to protect the health and livelihood of Maine’s farmers.