PFAS Workshop Hosted by the Maine Association of Planners Legislative Policy Committee (MAP LPC)
With the alarming news about PFAS contamination on Maine farms, the Maine Association of Planners Legislative Policy Committee (MAP LPC) scrambled to put together an informational workshop that also offered some hope against this latest blow to preserving agricultural lands for food production. The February workshop was well attended and can be viewed here.
The workshop is content rich with concisely provided, essential information about PFAS and Maine’s next steps. Lead speakers included Susanne Miller, Director of the Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management; Nancy McBrady, Director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources; Ellen Stern Griswold, Policy and Research Director of the Maine Farmland Trust; and Lisa Mcintosh, Senior Technical Manager at Woodard and Curran.
PFAS is a quick reference term for a group of chemicals that have detrimental health impacts such as damaging the liver and immune system, increasing cholesterol, increasing thyroid disease and, germane to our current global health circumstances, decreasing the body’s response to vaccines. PFAS chemicals have been used since the 1940’s on many products, such as coatings, packaging, waterproofing and firefighting foam. PFAS is a nationwide issue - PFAS map.
The State of Maine has a PFAS maximum standard of 20 ppt, compared to a federal drinking water standard of 70 ppt. The state has identified 700 sites in 2021 where PFAS levels must be tested. These sites, dating back to the 1970’s, have received licenses for sludge and septage spreading. The DEP Bureau of Remediation is ramping up to test ½ of the sites by 2024 and the second ½ by 2025, averaging 3.5 sites per week. Complicating the testing are situations where the sites are no longer operating as farmland, where spreading has occurred on multiple fields and where there have been multiple contributors.
The Maine Farmland Trust provided an important perspective of farmers where their drinking water may be compromised, and fields where they may not be able to grow healthful food. Farmers are experiencing more than the usual stress as they struggle with using fields that may not be tested until 2025.
Planners also can play a role. Woodard and Curran has been working in the State of Massachusetts, which is a few years ahead on PFAS remediation. There are examples where remediation has measurably reduced PFAS levels in drinking water, and measurable and continuing declines in PFAS levels in milk. Panelists also were careful to remind us that we must continue to responsibly dispose of sludge and septage waste. Landfills currently have capacity for disposal, but at increased costs to municipalities. We also need to develop better testing methods to determine PFAS levels in animals, soil, etc.
The PFAS update, since the workshop, is that Governor Mills signed LD 1911
into law, making Maine the first state in the country to ban the spreading of
sewage sludge on farmland. In addition, the
supplemental budget that was passed includes $60 million to provide farmers
impacted by PFAS contamination with resources to address PFAS impacts,
including health monitoring, income replacement, new business models,
relocation services, buying contaminated
land, and research on soil remediation.
In addition to the PFAS progress at the state level, MOFGA and MFT are partnering to administer a PFAS Emergency Relief Fund. The fund helps with immediate needs, bridging gaps in state funding. The fund provides short-term income replacement for farms that have been identified by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) as having high PFAS levels. The fund also helps pay for initial PFAS testing and supports mental health services for impacted farmers.
Maureen O'Meara, Town Planner. Town of Cape Elizabeth
Maureen is the town planner for the Town of Cape Elizabeth.