PFAS Task Force Members Urge Stronger State Action to Tackle ‘Forever Chemicals’ Polluting Maine Farmland, Drinking Water
Health advocates serving on Task Force call on state policy makers to take stronger action
to protect public health from toxic chemical pollution
AUGUSTA—Health advocates serving on Governor Janet Mills’ PFAS Task Force urged policy makers today to go beyond Task Force recommendations and take stronger, more decisive state action, including enacting a health-protective drinking water standard, to protect public health from toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The comments were made today in a legislative briefing before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
“We celebrate the Task Force’s clarity in addressing clean-up and prevention of future PFAS pollution, but policy makers should also be mindful of the need to compensate for three major weaknesses in the Task Force report,” said Michael Belliveau, Task Force member and executive director of the Portland- and Bangor-based Environmental Health Strategy Center.
Belliveau continued: “These weaknesses include: The need to establish a truly health-protective drinking water standard in Maine, as other New England states have already done; to systematically test sites where paper mill sludge and/or sewage sludge was spread as fertilizer in the last forty years, which is what resulted in the devastating contamination of Stoneridge Farm in Arundel; and to establish a fairer statute of limitations so that those suffering from PFAS contamination, like Stoneridge Farm owners Fred and Laura Stone, are able to initiate legal action against those responsible.”
Dr. Lani Graham, Task Force member representing the Maine Public Health Association and Portland-based family physician, also addressed the need for strong legislative action to protect Mainers from PFAS in drinking water, urging lawmakers to follow the example of other New England states and enact a truly health-protective drinking water standard.
In a statement read at Thursday’s briefing, Dr. Graham said: “It seems clear that Maine people should not be exposed to these chemicals in their water at higher levels than people in other states. We are talking about drinking water that is being consumed by the most vulnerable among us—pregnant women, bottle-fed infants, and children. The easiest thing to do, while waiting for federal action, would be for the Maine legislature to step in and follow the example of these other states.”
PFAS exposure has been linked to kidney cancer and testicular cancer, as well as thyroid disease, compromised immune systems, and infertility. These so-called “forever chemicals” do not break down in the human body or in the environment.
PFAS are used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as nonstick coatings on cookware and water- and grease-resistant coatings on food packaging, outerwear, and furniture. These chemicals are also used in many firefighting foams, which then contaminate soil and water.
Many Mainers first learned about PFAS pollution in 2019, when headlines broke nationwide about Arundel dairy farmer Fred Stone’s livelihood being ruined by PFAS contamination of his land, cows, and milk—a result of state-sanctioned spreading of sewage and industrial sludge on his farmland as fertilizer. Nearly all other sites where sewage and industrial sludge was spread across the state remain untested for PFAS contamination.
State-ordered testing in 2019 revealed nearly all sewage sludge used as fertilizer or for compost in Maine is contaminated with toxic PFAS.
Potentially unsafe levels of PFAS in drinking water are another concern throughout the state, although most public water supplies remain untested. Some of those public water supplies in Maine that have been tested were found to contain toxic PFAS at levels that exceeded or nearly exceeded nearby states’ standards, including at an elementary school in Trenton, Maine.
Last month, the Governor’s PFAS Task Force released its final recommendations, which health advocates criticized as not strong enough to protect Mainers from the harmful health impacts of PFAS exposure.
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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.