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Strategy Center Statement on PFAS

Environmental Health Strategy Center
03.19.2019
Category:
News Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Elyse Tipton, (207) 699-5775 or (207) 632-8983 cell/text

Farmlands Threatened by Toxic “Forever Chemicals” from Industry

Advocates Slam State’s Failure to Investigate Potential Widespread Contamination from Sludge Spreading after Toxic Chemicals in Milk from Maine Dairy Farm Were Found at Highest Known Level

ARUNDEL, Maine, March 19, 2019—The same highly toxic industrial chemicals that poisoned a 100-year old dairy farm, its milk, and a public drinking water supply may be lurking undiscovered in farmlands across Maine and the rest of the country, public health advocates warned today.

State records show that Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation agreed in 2017 that sludge spread on the fields of Stoneridge Farm in Arundel was the source of toxic chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which were found in high levels in cow’s milk from the farm.

But even though spreading industrial waste and sewage sludge as a fertilizer has been a common farm practice across the state and country for decades, no state agency seriously investigated other Maine dairies or farmlands to identify any other PFAS contamination.

State investigators tested only one other farm site and two containers of milk sold at retail.

“The state’s past misconduct shamefully failed to protect our food, water, and health from this serious toxic pollution threat,” said Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, speaking today at a gathering of public health advocates at Stoneridge Farm.

“The state must act swiftly now to test other farm fields, end sludge spreading until proven safe, and phase out current uses of these ‘forever chemicals’,” MacRoy said. “The state should protect farmers by defraying all costs, but ultimately the chemical industry polluters must pay.”

MacRoy also noted that the PFAS Task Force that Governor Mills created by executive order on March 6 “is a good and necessary first step” to investigate PFAS pollution in Maine and recommend corrective actions as soon as practicable.

PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they are very long lived in the environment and build up to high levels in the food web, including in human bodies. Some PFAS chemicals are still widely used to produce grease-resistant paper packaging, plastics, water-repellent textiles, and a variety of consumer products.

“Research studies have linked human exposure to PFAS to serious health effects,” said Dr. Laurel Schaider, who also spoke at the farm today. “PFOS, the main type of PFAS chemical found here, may harm the immune system, and cause thyroid disease, liver damage, high blood pressure during pregnancy, decreased fertility, low birth weight in newborns, and possibly cancer.” Schaider is a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts and a visiting scientist at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Beginning in the 1980s, Maine state agencies authorized sludge to be spread at Stoneridge Farm, but never tested to discover that the sludge carried high levels of PFAS chemicals from industry.

Starting in 2016, unsafe levels of PFAS at the farm have been found in cow’s milk as well as drinking water and hay fields. One of the chemicals, known as PFOS, was found in the milk at seven times the level the state says is adulterated—and at the highest known level in milk reported anywhere.

When the pollution was discovered, milk sales were promptly halted. Despite considerable effort and expense since then, Stoneridge Farm has been unable to continuously produce milk free from PFOS contamination.

“Toxic chemicals that I never used, and never even knew about, contaminated my cows’ milk, ruined my farming, and hurt my family,” said Fred Stone, who owns Stoneridge Farm with his wife, Laura Stone. “I want the State of Maine to make sure no other farming families go through what’s happening to us.”

The toxic sludge also polluted a nearby public drinking water well operated by the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, and the water supply is now treated to slash PFAS levels.

But thousands of consumers were exposed to these PFAS chemicals in milk for up to thirty years and in drinking water for up to five years. Milk contamination may have happened shortly after sludge spreading began in 1983. The contaminated public water supply well first went online in 2012.

"I am deeply concerned for the health of the vulnerable populations in our community and beyond," said Kate Manahan, a Kennebunk resident whose public water supply was contaminated by the same toxic sludge that ruined the Stoneridge farm. “How could the water supply of such a conscientious community have been contaminated? How did we allow ourselves to give so much of our power to chemical corporations? How much do we sacrifice when we are sick? What are the social costs, lost opportunities, and physical costs to not regulating chemical pollutants?”

Prohibiting the use of all forms of PFAS must become a priority, another public health expert said today. “Prevention must be the priority,” said Dr. Rebecca Boulos, executive director of Maine Public Health Association. “Maine must prevent exposure from past pollution and phase out current uses of ‘forever chemicals’ to prevent future harm.”

Sewage sludge is produced in every community across the country that has a sewage treatment plant to process wastewater from homes, schools, businesses, and industry. The sludge – also called “biosolids” – is the solid waste left over after wastewater treatment. Land spreading of sewage sludge is commonly practiced in all fifty states.

Additional Resources:

  • Copies of DEP and DACF reports about Stoneridge Farm (upon request)

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The ​Environmental​ Health Strategy Center is a nonprofit organization that works for a world where all people are healthy and thriving in a safe environment. Because everyone deserves access to safe food and drinking water, and toxic-free, climate-friendly products. Visit www.ourhealthfuture.org for more information.