By Scott Sanderson
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) made headlines across New England when farmers throughout Maine found these toxic “forever” chemicals in their soils and waters. The discovery forced farmers to make difficult decisions. After all, farmers care deeply about their communities. They worried about selling contaminated food products, and they wanted to protect public health. Limited testing, guidance, and information made their decisions even harder. Some impacted farmers felt that they had no choice but to stop farming altogether.
Maine’s farmers and their allies soon identified biosolids and other products derived from sludge, septage, and wastewater as the likely source of PFAS contamination. Biosolids have long been spread on farmland to improve soil fertility. Regulations, however, have not required biosolids to be tested for PFAS.
The Legal Food Hub’s partners acted quickly to support farmers. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Maine Farmland Trust launched a PFAS Emergency Fund. Other agricultural service providers worked closely together, coordinating their services to address the challenges that PFAS contamination posed.
Maine’s lawmakers also responded. They passed a series of bills designed to protect farmland from PFAS and to assist affected farmers. One bill prohibited the distribution of pesticides containing intentionally added PFAS. Another halted the spreading of sludge and biosolids. A third created a $60 million fund to help farmers recover. Legislators throughout the country are now looking to Maine as they consider PFAS legislation in their own states.
These are important steps, and all evidence indicates that New England’s food supply remains safe, healthy, and wholesome. For farmers dealing with PFAS contamination, the future can feel daunting. All of us at the Legal Food Hub are determined to connect farmers with the legal assistance they need to navigate the PFAS crisis. We are building our capacity, recruiting attorneys with critical expertise, and offering webinars on key legal topics. Now, more than ever, we need to support the farmers who work so hard to bring fresh, healthy food to our doors. The Legal Food Hub is ready.