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PFAS, Healthy Farms, Safe Food

03.26.2019

Last week was a busy one at the Strategy Center.

On Tuesday, we stood with Maine dairy farmer Fred Stone and one of his cows, Lida Rose, on a farmland ridge along the Kennebunk River in Arundel, Maine. Mr. Stone testified to the media about the devastating chemical contamination discovered more than two years ago that has since ruined his cows' milk, farm, and livelihood.

The culprit? Toxic PFAS, or per- and perfluoroalkyl substances, found in industrial waste and sewage sludge spread on his and many Maine farm fields after Maine and other states began promoting sludge as fertilizer beginning more than 35 years ago.

Strong science research shows PFAS increases the risk of some cancers, may lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, and is associated with liver problems and increased cholesterol levels. Plus, PFAS chemicals stay so persistently in human bodies and the environment that they are known as the "forever chemicals."

Mr. Stone's story resonated throughout the week, with coverage by ReutersAssociated Press, the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily NewsMaine Public, and more. Why so much interest? Because we all want safe, toxic-free milk, drinking water, and food.

For Farmers

We won't know if the PFAS contamination discovered at the Arundel farm is the tip of a toxic iceberg until there's a full investigation. But on Friday, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took an important step forward: The agency announced Friday that it will require the testing of all sludge material licensed for land application in the state for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Mike Belliveau, our executive director, responded in a statement that applauded the Maine DEP’s leadership. Yet Maine must still take next steps that include:

  • Testing all farm fields where sludge was spread in the past to find any other PFAS contamination that may threaten farmers and the safety of our food and water;
  • Defraying the costs for all Maine farmers who have been potentially harmed by PFAS pollution, and must test, investigate, and clean up the toxic mess;
  • Phasing out all PFAS still used in consumer and commercial products to prevent pollution at its source.

For Food

We support legislation in Maine to phase out PFAS as well as toxic phthalates (THAL-eights) in food packaging.

Last Wednesday, internationally respected children's health expert Dr. Leo Trasande briefed Maine lawmakers on the dangerous health impacts of toxic chemicals in food packaging and processing.

Both PFAS and phthalates have been linked to interfering with normal brain development in children.

Phthalates change the way hormones work, and put pregnant women, babies, and toddlers most at risk. Boys may suffer an increased risk of birth defects associated with testicular cancer, prostate cancer, or difficulty in fathering a child.

The Legislature is currently working on a food-packaging bill that would require manufacturers to phase out PFAS and phthalates by 2022. It also would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to address the use of other harmful chemicals.

You can make a difference! Take action for Maine farms by calling on state agencies to investigate potential PFAS contamination on farmland treated with sludge. And stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter to find out ways you can take action to support our bill for safe, toxic-free food.