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 in relatively 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 and navigate resources to answer questions.
A general PFAS FAQ for farmers is available in English and Spanish and we will continue to update this page with resources as they become available. Contact Organic Crops Specialist Caleb Goossen or submit your questions anonymously here if you prefer and we’ll answer them in our biweekly Farmer Programs Newsletter (subscribe here).
MOFGA has created a road map for farmers navigating questions around PFAS, testing resources available, and financial assistance pathways if contamination is found. We hope this numbered step by step guide with linked resources and contact information provides a thorough pathway of support for farmers in this stressful time. It will be updated with more information as support systems are further designed.
Listen to Common Ground Radio on WERU FM for a discussion with MOFGA staff regarding PFAS contamination in soils and water sources.
You can also find PFAS information on the following sites:
What does the Septage and Sludge Sites map actually tell you?
A map of sites associated with licenses for spreading biosolids or residuals is available here. Please note that pins on the map may not show whether biosolids were actually spread there or whether those biosolids contained PFAS. The record keeping for the licenses may not have been very exact, and locations on the map may suggest a general vicinity, not exact fields.
Where there is contamination, PFAS concentrations are proving to be highly variable within fields, and neighboring fields can have very different amounts. “Stacking” or “stockpiling” sites where bio-solids were piled up before being spread out tend to be where levels are highest. Groundwater contamination may be different however, as subsurface water doesn’t necessarily respect field boundaries.
In short, sites listed on the Septage and Sludge Sites map, and immediately surrounding locations, may represent a higher probability of PFAS contamination, but not necessarily. Listed locations may not have PFAS contamination that is of a concern to human health, and locations with concerning levels of PFAS contamination may not show up on this map.
We are available to help you navigate and understand the map.
For farmers looking up your own land, or the land on which your agricultural inputs are coming from (hay, straw mulch, etc) it may be helpful to know that as of yet, the vast majority of the most concerning PFAS contamination sites are associated with biosolid applications from the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District (KSTD). That’s not to say that the other sources of biosolids didn’t contain PFAS contamination – likely all municipal wastewater has PFAS in it, because of the ubiquity of the compounds in household products, but the KSTD was also processing industrial waste at one point that had very high levels of PFAS compounds. Even so, it’s not clear that all KSTD biosolids will be a concern – we are still in the early days of the state fully evaluating the amounts, sources and current locations of contamination.
Should you test for PFAS?
The state of Maine is doing testing of sites throughout the state, and is trying to prioritize sites that may have the highest risk of contamination. The state plans to eventually test all sites with biosolids application, but this testing will take several years to complete. If you live near a DEP-licensed sludge or septage land application site, 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 – the biggest bang for your buck (all PFAS testing is very expensive) would be to first sample your water sources, both because that may show the general level of contamination in the area, and because it is often the most concerning vector for how people are consuming PFAS contamination, and mitigating your own exposure through your water would be your first step to respond to verified contamination.
Livestock and/or forage farmers may receive more actionable test results from soil and/or forage sampling than vegetable/berry farmers, as the limited research performed so far has provided some information on PFAS transfer factors from soil to forage and from forage and water to animals and animal products. The sheer diversity of vegetable and berry species, combined with the fact that research into plant uptake of PFAS is still in its infancy, means that soil tests may not provide information that is immediately actionable for growers.
This DEP flyer offers guidance on collecting water samples yourself. If the sample results are above the thresholds set for residential drinking water (The sum of 6 individual PFAS compounds; PFOS + PFOA + PFHpA + PFNA + PFHxS + PFDA being 20 parts per trillion, or greater), then it would likely be a higher sample reading than even accidental contamination would produce. We recommend that you inform DEP of your results by contacting [email protected] or [email protected], 207-287-5842, so they are aware of all contamination issues, may assist you with interpretation if needed, and that they may ensure that you have safe water to drink. For more information, see the “What is Maine doing about PFAS” section on DEP’s PFAS webpage here. A high water test result would indicate that you may then want to test soils. We also recommend that you notify the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry by contacting [email protected] or 207-287-7522.
What happens to your business if you have high test results?
We will be publishing additional guidance as information becomes available and screening thresholds for crops and other products are set. Currently, there are only a few screening levels set (for example, residential water: 20 ppt sum of 6 PFAS, milk: 210 ppt PFOS, beef:3.4 ppb PFOS). There are no federal thresholds for PFAS contamination that tie to the USDA National Organic Regulations, however when additional screening levels are determined by the Maine CDC, contaminated products will be deemed adulterated by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and affected farms will not be allowed to sell those products. This will trigger the organic certifier of those products to abide and uphold the state’s decision. The certifier may choose to issue a notice of non-compliance, which would require a corrective action plan from the producer (namely, remediation to bring the levels into compliance with the state threshold). A non-compliance notice reflects that some part of the producer’s organic system plan is not compliant, though correctable – in this case that there is an issue with state level licensure that needs to be corrected. These 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.
A way forward may be possible. DACF, MOFGA 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. For example, preliminary data shows that plant uptake of PFAS is highest in roots and leaves, but there may be little to no accumulation in fruit and grains.
MOFGA is working on many fronts and with many partners to provide support to affected farmers, including financial, policy, education, communication, and legal guidance resources, and research. We will continue to keep you updated and please do not hesitate to be in touch with any questions.
Points of Contact for More Information
David Madore – Maine Department of Environmental Protection – [email protected], 207-287-5842
Nancy McBrady -Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry – [email protected], 207-287-7522
Tim Drake- Maine Milk Commission- Contact Information
Maine PFAS Information
Maine sludge and bioash spreading information (Note that this is an Excel spreadsheet, and needs to be downloaded to view.)
PFAS Presentations From 2020 Ag Trades Show
Financial Resources Available
Maine PFAS Emergency Relief Fund – this fund is administered by MOFGA and MFT in cooperation with MDACF to award farmers funding to cover PFAS testing. Currently, farms with food deemed adulterated by PFAS are eligible for the relief fund by referral from DACF and the funding is limited to covering monthly milk tests that allow farmers to access the USDA’s Dairy Indemnification Payment Program (DIPP), which compensates farmers for the value of their milk they would otherwise sell commercially but for contamination.
Current Lab Testing Facilities
Alpha Analytical 72 Center Street Brewer, ME 04401 Contact: Steve Knollmeyer (603)498-7213 [email protected]
Battelle 141 Longwater Drive, Suite 202Norwell, MA 02061 Contact: Jonathan Thorn (781)681-5565 [email protected]
Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories Environmental 2425 New Holland Pike Lancaster, PA 17601 Contact: Jane Huber (717)209-1438 [email protected]
TestAmerica Laboratories 880 Riverside Parkway West Sacramento, CA 95605 Contact: Debby Wilson (949)237-0603 [email protected]
Vista Analytical 1104 Windfield Way El Dorado Hills, CA 95762 Contact: Jennifer Christmann (916) 673-1520 [email protected]
Maine professionals with experience collecting samples for PFAS testing:
Northern Tilth Belfast, ME (207)338-5500
Winslow Agriculture LLC New Gloucester, ME (207) 330-5378
Stress, Mental Health, and Well-Being
If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health support, there are a number of national hotlines available:
• Farm Aid Hotline: 800-FARM-AID (327-6243) – Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) – 24/7/365
• 211, a comprehensive hotline that connects callers with local resources and counselors
• 911 in an emergency
Farm Aid has an extensive list of resources on its Farmer Resource Network website, and the Rural Health Information Hub also maintains a detailed page dedicated to farmer mental health and suicide prevention.