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Buzz Pinkham is the owner of Pinkham’s Greenhouse and Landscape Center in Damariscotta. Roland Arsenault is the superintendent of the Rumford-Mexico Wastewater District.
It shouldn’t surprise us that legislators want a quick fix to stem the justifiable public outrage about PFAS contamination on Maine farms. After all, the Legislature and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection — along with the producers of PFAS — are ultimately responsible for the terrible mistakes made several decades ago.
But the state’s response to this mistake shouldn’t be to make an even bigger mistake.
We’re part of a group of landscapers, garden centers, wastewater treatment districts, and farmers — including the Maine Farm Bureau who are responsible for 95 percent of the food grown in Maine — and we oppose the proposed ban on municipal biosolids currently being debated in the Maine Legislature. None of us have ever made a dime from PFAS, but we are stuck dealing with it.
PFAS contamination on Maine farms is a tragedy. Even the proponents of the ban acknowledge this likely took place over time. Decades ago, PFAS production was at its height and industrial sources were, regrettably, allowed to discharge directly to local wastewater districts.
The companies that made the chemicals that caused this contamination should be held responsible. The families whose lives have been forever disrupted deserve our immediate financial and technological support.
We cannot turn back the clock and erase that. By the same token, we cannot blame all biosolids — or hastily pass legislation banning biosolids recycling – in the false hope this will solve the problem.
Biosolids recycling today is much more highly regulated than 30 years ago. It alone didn’t cause our current problem and it doesn’t present any greater threat than numerous other minor releases of PFAS to the environment that happen every day.
And biosolids recycling continues to provide significant benefits to our environment. It reduces carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, reduces fertilizer and pesticide use, enhances soil health, and recycles nutrients.
If the Maine Legislature decides Maine wants to be the only state in the country to ban the recycling of municipal biosolids, all those benefits are gone. Worse, a ban would drive up costs for Maine farmers, driving up their prices and putting more of them out of business. When that happens, more food from away comes into Maine — food that isn’t subject to any PFAS soil and compost regulation because very few states have passed any regulations — much less a ban — on biosolids.
And it’s not just farmers who would be hurt. The sewer bills for most Mainers would likely increase — in some cases, significantly. Sewer districts would be mandated to transport their residual material to a landfill and pay for disposal. And landfill capacity in Maine is declining — rapidly, which drives up prices for everyone.
Added transportation and disposal costs for sewer districts means higher costs for Maine families. The sewer district serving Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield, population 11,100, estimates additional costs of $300,000 to $500,000 annually — a minimum increase of 25 percent for the average ratepayer.
Does that make sense given inflation rates we are now facing?
Here’s another risk to consider. If biosolids are as dangerous as some legislators say, does it really make sense to concentrate them in one place two miles from the Penobscot River? Has there been any science brought forward to support this idea? Might that cause an even bigger problem 30 or 40 years from now?
We believe a better alternative is establishing a maximum limit of PFAS in biosolids – rather than a complete ban. This would protect farms from industrial contamination and preserve beneficial recycling that improves our environment. It would be the strictest regulation in the country and it won’t unnecessarily drive up sewer bills for Maine families.
Maine people deserve a thoughtful, logical — and safer — solution to PFAS. The government still allows the production of these chemicals and that should be the focus, instead of passing the burden to end users at the community’s expense. We hope our Legislature agrees.