WASHINGTON – The Environmental Working Group applauds Maine’s congressional delegation for introducing bipartisan bills that would support American farmers whose crops and livestock have been contaminated by the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.
Maine Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, both Democrats, today filed legislation called the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act.
The bill, if enacted, would fund:
- More capacity for PFAS tests of soil and water sources
- Blood monitoring for individuals so they can make informed decisions about their health
- Equipment to ensure farms stay profitable during or after known PFAS contamination
- Relocation of commercial farms if the land is no longer viable
- Alternative cropping systems and cleanup strategies
- Education for farmers with PFAS-contaminated land
- Research on soil and water cleanup systems, and their viability for farms.
The bill’s funding would give much-needed resources to farmers across the country who are discover that their crops and livestock are contaminated, through no fault of their own.
The four Maine lawmakers have been stalwart champions in Congress, bringing attention to the significant role the federal government must play in tackling PFAS contamination at the source and at the end of its waste stream.
How PFAS contaminate farms
A common source of PFAS contamination on farms is sewage sludge spread on fields as fertilizer. This sludge is a product of the wastewater treatment process. Industrial discharges of PFAS into rivers and wastewater treatment plants build up in the sludge, which is applied to land as a fertilizer, dumped in a landfill or burned.
PFAS are exempt from federal rules limiting pathogens and metals in sludge.
Once PFAS-contaminated sludge is applied as a fertilizer, the chemicals can build up in food crops, feed crops such as corn and hay, and the animals that eat these feed crops. Several farmers have been forced to euthanize their farm animals because of high levels of PFAS in farm products. These chemicals can also contaminate irrigation water.
Some PFAS are more likely than others to build up in sludge, studies show. Once applied to the land, PFAS in sludge can be taken up by edible plants, though the amount depends on the amount of PFAS and type of plant.
Posing risks to the U.S. food supply
Food is considered a major source of PFAS exposure, because some of the chemicals move from water into the plants and animals people consume.
Concerns about PFAS contamination in the U.S. food supply go back nearly two decades. A 2001 study commissioned by the chemical company 3M detailed how this family of chemicals ended up in food across the U.S.
Fred Stone, a dairy farmer in Arundel, Maine, was forced to dump all of the milk from his herd of 50 to 100 cows every day after high levels of PFAS contamination were found in the milk. Eventually, he had to put down most of his herd.
PFAS have been linked to serious health problems, including suppression of the immune system and an elevated risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, and reproductive and developmental harms, among other serious health issues.
PFAS are called forever chemicals because they build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment. Nearly all Americans, including newborn babies, have PFAS in their blood.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, its plan for addressing PFAS, fails to address the presence of the chemicals in sludge, pledging only to complete a study of the issue by the end of 2024. The roadmap also fails to set a deadline for quickly curtailing the industrial PFAS releases that are the main source of sludge contamination.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action