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March 10, 2023

Maine Delegation Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Support Farmers Affected by PFAS

Washington, D.C.—In a bipartisan, bicameral effort to provide vital assistance to farmers affected by PFAS, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden introduced the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act.  The legislation, which was also co-sponsored by Senator Shaheen (D-NH) and Representative Leger Fernández (D-NM) would authorize grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate.

PFAS are man-made “forever” chemicals that are used in industry and consumer products and can lead to serious health effects.  PFAS contamination has prevented some Maine farms from selling their products, creating financial hardship for many family farmers.  In 2016, a dairy farmer in Arundel discovered that the milk produced on his farm contained some of the highest levels ever reported for a PFAS contaminant.  In 2020, a dairy farm in Fairfield found PFAS levels in its milk were 153 times higher than the Maine standard.  An organic vegetable farm in Unity uncovered PFAS contamination last year, and the couple who farmed the land have higher PFAS levels in their blood than chemical plant workers who manufactured PFAS for decades.  Numerous other Maine farmers have had their livelihoods disrupted due to PFAS contamination, which originated in sludge that was spread as fertilizer by farmers who were told by the government that it was safe to use.

“USDA needs to step up and provide support to farmers, who through no fault of their own are at risk of losing their livelihoods,” said Senator Collins.  “This is not just a problem in Maine—PFAS contamination has been discovered on farms across the country, and this problem will only become more evident as testing becomes more readily available.  Thus far, the federal government’s response has failed to keep pace with this growing problem.  I have repeatedly urged USDA Secretary Vilsack to come to the aid of these affected farmers, and the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act would direct the Department to help where it is needed most.”

“Maine’s hardworking farmers are losing crops, land, and livestock to ‘forever chemicals’ at an alarming rate. If we don’t act quickly, the PFAS crisis will only worsen and the future of farming communities across our state will be at risk,” said Senator King. “The Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act is a crucial step towards creating a federal safety net that can provide impacted farms the relief they need and deserve. The monitoring, testing, and remediation provisions would be a gamechanger in our work to protect Maine communities from PFAS contamination. The state of Maine has been on the forefront of these efforts, but additional federal resources are vitally needed. I hope this bipartisan, bicameral legislation receives broad support across Congress to protect the future of Maine farming.”

“The more we learn about forever chemicals, the more urgent addressing widespread contamination across the nation becomes. Our farmers’ livelihoods are in jeopardy. The upcoming Farm Bill is our opportunity to give farmers the federal support they need,” said Congresswoman Pingree, a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee and longtime farmer. “The Relief for Famers Hit with PFAS Act establishes a USDA program to help farmers in Maine and across the country address PFAS contamination—through testing, compensating farmers for contaminated land, researching and implementing remediation strategies and more. Our bill is an important step forward in mobilizing whole-of-government action in response to PFAS contamination that’s impacting our food supply chain, economy, and way of life.”

“For years, farmers across Maine have been leading the way on combating the environmental costs of ‘forever chemicals,’ often at a great financial loss to themselves,” said Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02). “As testing for PFAS becomes more widely available, we’ve learned that these Maine farmers are not an isolated group. Ensuring that our farmers have the federal support they need to protect their livelihood and keep consumers healthy is essential to the survival of this industry. This bill is a much-needed step towards a unified approach to solving this growing problem.”

Specifically, the funds authorized by the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act could be used for a variety of purposes at the state level, including:

  • Providing financial assistance to affected farmers;
  • Building capacity for PFAS testing for soil or water sources;
  • Monitoring blood for individuals to make informed decisions about their health;
  • Upgrading or purchasing equipment to ensure a farm remains profitable during or after known PFAS contamination;
  • Developing alternative production systems or remediation strategies;
  • Developing educational programs for farmers experiencing PFAS contamination; and
  • Researching soil and water remediation systems, and the viability of those systems for farms

“Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) is thrilled to see the introduction of the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act,” said Ellen Stern Griswold, Vice President & Deputy Director, Maine Farmland Trust. “MFT has been working for months with a broad range of Maine stakeholders to channel urgent funding and resources to impacted farmers. But more must be done. Other states are beginning to recognize the reality that Maine already has - that PFAS contamination endangers farm families, the agricultural sector, and our food system. It is imperative that we enact a strong federal safety net of support and research to ensure that farmers in Maine and across the country continue to thrive. This bill is a critical piece of that work.”

“Maine farmers, residents and policymakers are in the painful position of leading the country on mitigating the horrible impacts of PFAS,” said Sarah Alexander, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). “Maine has created essential policies to help farmers who have suffered consequences of forever chemicals through no fault of their own. Senator Collins’ bill signals an opportunity for the federal government to coordinate a response so that farmers across the country will have the support they need to address PFAS contamination.”

"Farmers and other impacted communities should not bear the brunt of the cost of the PFAS contamination crisis. Maine has been a leader in working to combat PFAS contamination and help those most impacted, including setting aside $60 million dollars to help PFAS-impacted farmers. However, Maine cannot do it alone. We need the Congress to step up and help states provide resources to those who need it", said Sarah Woodbury, Director of Advocacy for the Maine-based non-profit Defend Our Health. "Following Maine's lead, this legislation introduced by Senator Collins will allow states that are dealing with PFAS contamination to apply for funding to help provide resources to those that are hardest hit by this contamination. This will provide a vital lifeline to farmers who are at the frontlines of this PFAS contamination crisis. Senator Collins has been steadfast in pushing for policies to help limit sources of PFAS and to provide resources to farmers and other impacted communities most impacted by PFAS contamination. We are grateful to her for her leadership on this issue."

"The reckless use and disposal of PFAS chemicals has devastated small farmers and dairies in Maine,” said Ania Wright, Legislative and Political Specialist, Sierra Club Maine Chapter. “This bill is an important first step to addressing the legacy of farmland contamination throughout the country, and supporting the people most impacted by PFAS pollution."

“American Farmland Trust (AFT) applauds the Maine delegation for its leadership in introducing this bill,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for AFT. “As they know well, the discovery of PFAS can have a profound and devastating impact on a farm family’s livelihood, personal and mental health, and the value of their farmland—through no fault of their own. States like Maine have taken the lead in confronting this urgent challenge to our food system and farm economy, and this bill would provide critical federal support for those efforts.”

“Farmers and ranchers share the concerns over PFAS, and we take seriously the health and safety of America’s families. Farmers do not use PFAS. Putting the financial burden of remediation on farmers would threaten livelihoods in rural America and cause supply chain disruptions at a time when America’s families are already suffering from escalating food prices,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “We appreciate Senator Collins for her careful consideration of farmer input in the drafting of the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act.”

The bill would also create a task force at USDA charged with identifying other USDA programs to which PFAS contamination should be added as an eligible activity.  This would help bring even more resources to farmers through existing programs.  Additionally, the task force would provide technical assistance to states to help them coordinate their responses effectively.

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