In this Aug. 15, 2019 photo, hay dries after a recent cut at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Tens of millions of dollars could be headed to Maine to accelerate research into the state’s burgeoning forever chemical contamination problem as well as surveillance and management of the state’s growing tick population, which has driven a surge in tick-borne infections such as Lyme disease.

Additional money would go toward the University of Maine’s Factory of the Future initiative that will rely on 3D printing and artificial intelligence to pioneer new manufacturing methods using bio-based and recyclable materials.

The money for those initiatives is among more than $116 million earmarked for the University of Maine System in the U.S. Senate appropriations committee’s funding package for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a senior member of the committee, secured the projects’ place in the committee’s draft funding package, according to her office. 

This is the second consecutive year that members of Congress have been able to submit requests for earmarks for specially designated projects. Not all requests will ultimately get money, but more than 120 Maine projects were funded last year, translating into about $200 million in funding. 

The committee’s draft bill includes funding for 26 projects across the University of Maine System. The bill still needs to pass both chambers of Congress and gain President Joe Biden’s signature before the funding is approved.

The largest segment of the funding in this year’s draft bill would go toward advanced manufacturing initiatives at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, including the Factory of the Future and the development of composite materials for transportation infrastructure such as bridges.

Some $33 million has been earmarked for the construction of the Factory of the Future, building on top of $35 million secured during the last funding cycle. 

Some $8 million would fund research into forever chemicals, or PFAS, a set of thousands of chemicals that have been used in manufacturing for decades. Maine is coming to grips with the extent of PFAS contamination throughout the state.

Some $5 million would go toward establishing a PFAS research center and laboratory at UMaine. The other $3 million would go toward research to help farmers dealing with PFAS contamination that has come from decades of spreading wastewater sludge. 

The $6.2 million devoted to tick-borne disease initiative would be split among UMaine’s tick lab so it can establish a coordinated system of tick and tick-borne illness surveillance across northern New England; research to identify alternatives to pesticides that could kill ticks; and rural public health outreach to prevent the spread of tick-borne illnesses. 

Other projects that could see funding include campus renovations at UMaine Fort Kent, an expansion of the University of Maine School of Law’s legal aid clinic and a food innovation center at UMaine in Orono.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...