AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine could be the first state to ban sludge spreading linked to forever chemical contamination after the Democratic-led House of Representatives advanced a bill contested by legislative Republicans and sewer districts.
The bill from Rep. William Pluecker, I-Warren, would prohibit the spreading of the waste product from sewage treatment plants and barring the use or sale of sludge, along with banning the sale of agricultural crops grown where septage was spread. The material would instead go to landfills. Compost from food processing and alcoholic beverages would still be allowed.
It would be one of the most aggressive actions to date in Maine, which has been ramping up its efforts to respond to the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in farmland, water and food after several farms have discovered unsafe levels of the chemicals.
Public health and farming advocates have the wind at their backs. Maine advanced a first-in-the-nation phaseout of most consumer products containing PFAS last year. They are on track to approve a $100 million fund to aid farmers and address health effects and have also advanced a phaseout of pesticides containing the chemicals.
Nearly all Americans have the chemicals in their blood, and their presence has been linked to health problems including cancer. Some guides are advising people to not eat freshwater fish here. Democrats cited urgent public health effects ahead of the 81-52 Monday vote on the spreading ban, which faces further action in both chambers.
“We must act quickly to address sludge spreading to preserve our farmlands, support our farm workers and protect the health of our communities,” said Rep. Amy Roeder, D-Bangor.
The proposal, one of the strongest efforts to date aimed at limiting further farmland exposure to PFAS, has attracted the ire of the wastewater and landfill industry, along with some farmers. Their advocacy focuses on negative tradeoffs of landfilling sludge, which they say would be costly to wastewater ratepayers customers and deprive farmers of a cheap fertilizer.
They have also argued the science around the chemicals is still developing and that the Legislature should set a limit for allowable PFAS in sludge. On the House floor, Republicans said the measure got ahead of the science and could eventually amount to an unfunded mandate on local utilities if state support does not continue.
“There’s money up front, there’s testing resources up front for a year or two, and after that, everybody’s on their own,” said Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the category of crops prohibited from being sold under this bill.