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Mainers Urge Lawmakers to Hold ‘Forever Chemicals’ Polluters Accountable

Environmental Health Strategy Center
07.27.2020
Category:
News Releases

After news of second farm with high levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in milk, impacted Mainers, health advocates, and legislators speak out

Impacted Mainers, experts, health advocates, and a legislator spoke out publicly Monday at a virtual press conference demanding the state take urgent action and hold polluters accountable after news broke that another Maine dairy farm was found to have sky-high levels of toxic chemicals in its milk, most likely a result of chemical pollution of farmland.

Those speaking agreed that Maine children, families, and farmers urgently need lawmakers to pass pending state legislation, LD 2160, to help impacted Mainers pursue justice and hold polluters accountable for PFAS (per- and poly fluoroalkyl substances) contamination of Maine farmland, water, and agricultural products.

The bill under consideration, LD 2160, would update Maine’s outdated statute of limitations to give impacted Mainers a more direct path to restitution and justice in the event that their property or health is impacted by PFAS pollution.

The Maine Judiciary Committee is holding a public hearing on LD 2160 at 1pm Tuesday, July 28. The hearing will be livestreamed at www.youtube.com/mainestatelegislature (select the Judiciary “channel”).

Representative Henry Ingwersen, D-Arundel, lead sponsor of LD 2160, said: “Who will pay for the loss of livelihoods, the disappearing farms, the contaminated drinking water, and other negative impacts on human health and the environment that may result? This simple change to the statute of limitations is about bringing some environmental justice to Maine’s farmers, landowners, businesses, and municipalities. It will remove one hurdle to hard-working families who are trying to rebuild their health and livelihoods damaged by this awful group of chemicals.”

Fred Stone, owner of Stoneridge Farms, Inc., a dairy farm in Arundel, Maine that has been devastated by PFAS contamination of their farmland, cows, and milk, said: “It’s always been my goal to try to make sure that no other farm in New England goes through what my wife and I have gone through for the past two or three years. Our land, which my grandfather purchased back in 1914, is virtually worthless. We’ve slaughtered half our herd. They’ve have taken away the entire value of our operation. I’m not sure where we go from here. This has broken our hearts, broken our spirits, broken our will.”

Sharon Treat, senior attorney for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), said: “We have known since 2016 about the public health and economic threat from spreading PFAS-laden sewage sludges and other wastes on farmland. Yet, Maine still hasn’t comprehensively addressed the problem. Toxic PFAS-contaminated waste continues to be spread in Maine, and testing at the farm level isn’t routine. Unlike our neighboring states, Maine hasn’t adopted an enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) standard for drinking water. We know Maine can marshal its resources and know-how to effectively tackle complex public health and economic crises – witness how we are leading the nation in the effectiveness of our pandemic response. We must do the same to tackle the PFAS crisis.”

Dr. Lani Graham, MD, MPH, family physician and former state health director, said: “The extent of PFAS contamination in Maine remains unknown. Most private wells, representing more than 50% of the sources of drinking water in Maine, have not been tested for this family of chemicals. Many farms and even family gardens where sludge was spread have also not been tested. As a result, some Maine people may now be drinking water that is unsafe for them or growing vegetables that are contaminated. And testing for PFAS in soil or drinking water is very expensive, to say nothing of the expense of trying to get rid of the stuff.  For this reason, the majority of PFAS Task Force members believed that it was important to give Maine people a more reasonable opportunity to sue those responsible for this dangerous contamination.”

Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said: “Maine law is exceptionally harsh—stricter than 37 other states actually—in making it difficult to file cases for pollution that occurred long ago, but were only discovered recently. Since these forever chemicals never break down, pollution done long ago may not surface until years later. In order to ensure farmers and impacted families have their day in court, we must pass LD 2160 to bring Maine in line with most other states and make it easier to file claims for pollution by PFAS.”

BACKGROUND:

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry announced late Friday that a second Maine dairy farm was found to have sky-high levels of toxic chemicals called PFAS in its milk. This farm’s milk contained PFAS at levels over twenty times higher than those found in the milk in Stoneridge Farm in 2016—which were, at the time, the highest levels ever recorded in milk in the U.S.

Just as news of the growing PFAS pollution crisis breaks, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee plans to hold a public hearing Tuesday on LD 2160, a bill that would help impacted families and farmers hold PFAS polluters accountable. A majority of Maine Governor Janet Mill’s PFAS Task Force supported this measure.

The true scope of the PFAS chemical crisis in Maine is still unknown. State-ordered testing in 2019 revealed nearly all sewage sludge used as fertilizer or for compost in Maine is contaminated with toxic PFAS. Yet, nearly all other sites where sewage and industrial sludge was spread across the state remain untested for PFAS contamination, and the state still allows the spreading of sewage sludge on farmland as fertilizer.

In November, the Maine CDC reported that PFAS has already contaminated multiple public water supplies, including those serving schools and a preschool. Later reporting revealed that private drinking water wells in Presque Isle were also contaminated by sewage sludge spread in nearby fields.

These so-called forever chemicals are highly persistent in the human body and the environment, and have been linked to certain cancers, infertility, immune system damage and thyroid and liver dysfunction.

RESOURCES:

Chart showing the highest levels of PFOS (the PFAS found in milk at Stoneridge Farm and the second farm in central Maine) discovered in milk: https://www.ourhealthyfuture.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/fs_-_highest_milk_levels_-_updated_with_2020_farm_1.pdf

Interactive map from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection showing PFAS-polluted sites in Maine (please note - does not contain most recent farm data, and may not have been updated since February 2020): https://maine.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=331d3c2141064ea1a24bedb73e7fa37f

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The Environmental Health Strategy Center works to create a world where all people are healthy and thriving, with equal access to safe food and drinking water, and products that are toxic-free and climate-friendly.