PFAS Information and Support for Maine Farmers
What is the PFAS situation for farmers in Maine? What should farmers be doing about it, and what support is available?
What is PFAS?
The chemicals known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been widely used since the 1950’s in products ranging from food packaging to fire fighting. The term PFAS describes over 9,000 compounds – most of them are drastically understudied, or completely unstudied in terms of health impacts. PFOA and PFOS are two of the most studied PFAS compounds, and known to cause human harm even in very small quantities. PFAS have recently been recognized as contaminants in agriculture and are believed to largely have entered soil through the application of biosolids, industrial sludges and ashes, which may have contained these persistent compounds. Biosolid applications are not permitted in organic production, but these substances undergo very little decomposition and may remain in an environment for decades after initial application.
This resource has been created to help farmers learn more about PFAS, make decisions about managing the PFAS issue and access support.
- “PFAS exposure leaves Maine people wondering: What is it doing to us?” Joe Lawlor. May 14, 2023. Portland Press Herald.
- “More than 50 Maine farms impacted by PFAS, but state officials see ‘glimmer of hope”. Kevin Miller. February 1, 2023. Maine Public.
- “Maine to receive nearly $19 Million to address PFAS chemicals in drinking water”. Elle Ousfar. Feb 19, 2023. News Center Maine.
- “Maine Farmers Face a Crisis Over Forever Chemicals”. Catie Joyce-Bulay. March 28, 2022. Modern farmer.
- “‘Forever chemicals’ upended a Maine farm –and point to a larger problem”. Keith O’ Brien. April 11, 2022. Washington Post.
Listen and Watch
- “Exposing Forever Chemicals: PFAS Contamination in Maine” (Youtube) April 14, 2023. University of New England.
- “PFAS Contamination in Soils and Water Sources”. Host: C.J. Walke. December 09, 2021. WERU: Common Ground Radio
What is being done about PFAS contamination on farms in Maine?
Leading the way
Our state’s farmers, policy-makers and scientists are at the forefront of collaborative problem solving. Maine is creating a roadmap for the rest of the country to follow so that food produced elsewhere can be as safe as the food produced in Maine.
Maine has been leading the nation in dealing with PFAS. Through legislation, testing, and other actions, our state has effectively “turned off the tap” of these contaminants on our farmlands. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have been testing water supplies and farmland where sludge has been applied. In 2022, the State Legislature passed laws making new sludge application illegal. By 2025, all sites that were permitted for sludge application will be tested, using a tiered prioritization system.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) are working together to assess and respond to the PFAS issue in the state of Maine, in collaboration with MOFGA, Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Generally speaking, DEP handles concerns about PFAS in drinking water, including public water and private wells, CDC assessing and setting thresholds to protect human health, and DACF is managing any PFAS concerns on farms in partnership with MOFGA and MFT. To learn more about the work each of these organizations is doing, check out their PFAS pages, which are linked below.
We understand that while these myriad partnerships strengthen our response to PFAS as a state, it can be difficult for farmers to figure out who to contact. A list of contacts and their roles can be found below.
What’s being done for farmers?
The state of Maine is testing sites throughout the state, using a tiered prioritization system, based on contamination risk. By 2025, all sites that were permitted for sludge application will be tested. To learn more about where tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 sites are located in Maine read our advice on how to interpret DEP’s PFAS investigation map.
MOFGA/MFT PFAS Emergency Relief Fund will pay for testing of home or irrigation water, farm soil, farm products and some other farm and food production-related materials. For eligibility and more information, check out the PFAS Emergency Relief Fund. Alternatively, DACF will reimburse out of pocket expenses for testing, given you meet certain criteria.
For guidance on whether you should be testing for PFAS, check out the next section.
Should a farmer find contamination, DACF and the PFAS Emergency Relief Fund will provide financial and technical assistance, including help navigating assistance programs, support in finding paths forward. For more information on the support available to contaminated farms, read “What happens if my farm finds contamination?”.
Universities across the country, and the world, are working to learn more about the extent of the PFAS issue, its impacts on human and environmental health, and what can be done to mitigate and remediate PFAS in our water and soil. The University of Maine in particular is collaborating with contaminated farms in Maine to study potential mitigation measures and to monitor how PFAS moves through the environment and agricultural systems and products. The MOFGA/MFT PFAS Emergency Relief Fund has recently committed to providing additional research funds to help researchers compensate farmers for the use of their land and time.
What should you do about PFAS concerns on your farm?
Should I test for PFAS?
There are many reasons to test: the sludge and sewage map indicates your farm is at higher than average risk for being contaminated, you’ve purchased and used contaminated inputs, you are purchasing or leasing new land and would like to know or your lender expects you to test, or maybe you just want some peace of mind. Many, but not all, of these reasons could qualify you for financial assistance in paying for these tests, which can otherwise be quite costly!
In addition to the resources you’ll find here, UMaine Extension has developed the “Guide to Investigating PFAS Risk” which contains more detail about how to determine when, where and how to test for PFAS.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has created a map of sites associated with licenses for spreading biosolids or residuals, which you can use to look up your own land, or the land your agricultural inputs are coming from (hay, straw mulch, etc.). By zooming in on the map, you can also see some publicly available PFAS testing data.
However, pins on the map do not show whether biosolids were actually spread or whether those biosolids contained PFAS. Also, the record keeping for the licenses may not have been very exact and locations on the map do not indicate exact fields. Where there is contamination, PFAS concentrations are proving to be highly variable within and between fields. For example, sites where biosolids were piled before being spread often have the highest levels of PFAS. Groundwater contamination may differ from field and even property boundaries.
In short, sites listed on the PFAS Investigation map and in immediately surrounding locations may represent a higher probability of PFAS contamination, but not all listed locations PFAS contamination that is of concern to human health, and locations with concerning levels of PFAS contamination may not show up on this map.
Please reach out to Mariam Taleb or Caleb Goossen for help navigating and understanding the map .
How can I test?
If you’d like to test any farm or forage water, soil, inputs or products, consider applying to MOFGA/MFT PFAS Emergency Fund’s testing grants program here, which can provide not only financial assistance for testing, but access to technical assistance, as well. We work with our partners at accredited testing labs to develop testing plans that fit your needs and circumstances.
Often we will recommend only testing water and/or soil. That is in part because, since PFAS research is still in early stages, there are not yet well-researched thresholds or guidelines for many agricultural or foraged products. For example, livestock and/or forage farmers may receive more actionable test results than fruit and vegetable farmers because the PFAS research performed to date has helped us to understand more about how PFAS moves from soil to animals and animal products. It may be some time before we better understand how PFAS is taken up by plants across the diversity of fruit and vegetable crops.
If you have any questions about testing, contact Mariam Taleb.
If you live near a DEP-licensed sludge or septage land application site and you are concerned about your drinking water, you can request that the DEP test your well for PFAS here.
If you are concerned about potential PFAS contamination and want to do your own private testing, it’s wise to first sample your water sources. That is both because water can show a general sense of the level of contamination on land near you, and because it is often the most critical source of PFAS in people’s diets. Water, therefore, is usually the best route to mitigating your own exposure.
If you decide to do your own private testing, ME-DEP offers some educational resources here, including how to take a sample, what accredited labs you can send a sample to, how to interpret your results and where to report your results for additional help. Following these guidelines will make it easier and more likely for you to be reimbursed for PFAS testing by DEP or DACF.
What happens if my farm finds contamination?
The first thing to know is that not all contamination is equally severe or concerning. However, all contamination on farms is taken equally seriously, for the health and safety of farmers and consumers alike. If you have recently received test results and you are wondering what’s next for your farm, please contact Mariam or Caleb at MOFGA, or the PFAS Response Program at DACF.
Ensuring food safety
There are only a few screening levels set for agricultural crops, products and other resources (screening levels can be found here). Should your testing results exceed these screening levels, contaminated products will be deemed adulterated by the DACF and affected farms will not be allowed to sell those products until they are able to show effective mitigation of PFAS contamination.
There are no specific thresholds for PFAS tied to organic certification, however, certifiers are required to abide by the state’s decision on food safety. Should a stop-sale order be issued by DACF, a notice of non-compliance may also be issued, effectively informing the producer that any issues with their state-level licensure need to be corrected. Mitigation of PFAS such that the stop-sale is lifted is sufficient correction.
Current screening levels, and the research that informs them, are in their infancy—the screening levels guidance document was last revised 6.28.21, updates are likely.
The way forward
Mitigation is an approach that seeks to reduce the impact of a toxic substance that cannot be removed or cleaned up. Remediation is the removal or destruction of a toxic substance entirely. Depuration is the gradual purging of a toxin, especially from bodily fluids, and is typically used to refer to livestock.
For farms that have found their water is contaminated, but not their soils, remediation by carbon filtration of water sources is possible. For farms with soil contamination, mitigation is often possible. Farms may alter their crop plans to focus on crops with lower uptake of PFAS, or move crops with higher uptake, such as leafy greens, to uncontaminated fields. For farms raising livestock, depuration is possible, given the animals are provided uncontaminated feed and water for a sufficient period of time.
MOFGA, MFT, DACF and a full network of organizations are working together to conduct research and offer direct assistance to farmers to identify alternative production and business strategies. If you are facing contamination on your farm, please reach out to any of these organizations for support.
The MOFGA/MFT PFAS Emergency Relief Fund and the DACF Fund to Address PFAS Contamination both offer financial assistance to cover the costs of mitigating PFAS contamination on farms at no cost to farmers for eligible projects. Both funds also offer technical assistance, including business planning, communications and legal support, to farmers who have discovered contamination.
This fund, which is co-administered by Maine Farmland Trust, was established to provide emergency financial and technical assistance to any Maine farm dealing with PFAS contamination. The financial assistance it currently provides include: PFAS testing grants for water, soil, farm products and land under contract, $500 wellness grants, income replacement, hardship grants (costs not captured in lost income), infrastructure and equipment grants and research funds. Testing, income and infrastructure and equipment grants are often offered in partnership with DACF.
This $60 million fund, established by the legislature, is expected to begin delivering support in the Fall of 2023. Until this fund was established by the legislature, the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources (BAFRR) has led all PFAS response efforts at DACF. BAFRR has provided financial support for testing (soil, water and other media), water filtration systems, infrastructure (up to a limit of $150,000 per project), equipment, clean feed, livestock indemnification, etc. The PFAS Fund will build upon and augment the financial support provided by BAFRR.
We provide this list of contacts to help orient you to the network of resources available. However, please know that anyone listed can and will direct you to the right resources for your situation.
Mariam Taleb, Organic Crop Program Manager: [email protected] or 207-505-8471
For questions about financial or technical assistance, testing or results, including development of mitigation strategies.
Caleb Goossen, Crop Production and Conservation Specialist: [email protected] or 207-568-6029
For questions about research, the chemistry of PFAS, etc.
Tricia Rouleau, Farm Network Director: [email protected] or 207-899-5515
For questions about financial or technical assistance, testing or results, including development of mitigation strategies.
DACF PFAS Response Program at [email protected] or 207-287-4514
For questions about testing or results, including development of mitigation strategies and possible financial support.
DACF Fund to Address PFAS Contamination at [email protected]
For questions about land acquisition or health monitoring.
For general questions about PFAS, status of DEP investigations, residential well testing and filter systems, and spreading record details for your property.
PFAS Information from our partner organizations
DACF’s PFAS site offers an overview of DACF’s current programs and policies, and, importantly, a regularly updated pdf list of accredited laboratories, which also notes which labs are accepting privately collected samples for testing.
This site covers DEP’s role in investigating the distribution of PFAS across the state, the EPA’s changing guidance about PFAS and PFAS treatment and mitigation, along with some quick links to information about sampling wells and soil, and guidance on interpreting testing results.
This site provides information on the testing of public water sources in Maine.
Stress, Mental Health and Well-Being
We recognize that this is a stressful situation for farmers. If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health support, there are a number of national hotlines for immediate help.
- Farm Aid Hotline: 800-FARM-AID (800-327-6243), Monday-Friday 9 a.m.–5 p.m. EST.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255), 24/7/365.
- 211 is a comprehensive hotline that connects callers with local resources and counselors.
- In an emergency, please call 911.
For longer term mental health and well-being support, please look into the following:
We will continue to update this page with resources as they become available. Last updated September 2023.