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Testimony in support of LD 558, “Resolve, Directing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry To Study Alternative Cropping Systems for Farmers Affected by Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances Contamination” delivered to the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Senator Dill, Representative O’Neill and honorable members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. My name is Sharon Treat and I live in Hallowell. I am Senior Attorney for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), on whose behalf I am testifying today in support of LD 558.

IATP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota with offices in Hallowell, Maine and other locations. IATP works closely with farmers and seeks to promote local, sustainable and environmentally beneficial agriculture and trade policies. We have been following PFAS issues both across the country and in Maine, and attended the meetings of Governor Mills’ PFAS Task Force and submitted detailed comments on the Task Force report. Maine farmers have learned the hard way that PFAS threatens their health and livelihoods, and the viability of their farms. Two Maine farms have been forced to shutter their operations because of dairy and beef contamination from these toxic chemicals — one in Arundel and the other in Fairfield. In Fairfield, in addition to pollution at the farm, at last count over 40 residential drinking water wells in the area are also contaminated, several with off-the-chart levels of PFAS.

We have to take this contamination seriously, firstly to protect the health of farmers, their neighbors and customers, and secondly, to assure that Maine’s reputation for safe, wholesome, and sustainably grown food remains intact. PFAS exposure has been linked to health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, infertility and compromised immune systems — which means PFAS exposure can make people more susceptible to COVID-19 health consequences and may limit the effectiveness of vaccines. Indeed, recent research has found a strong association with PFAS exposure and COVID-19 severity, antibody response, and asthma.

Attempts to clean up and remediate PFAS-contaminated farmland have proven to be both ineffective and outrageously expensive. Meanwhile, farmers have lost their livelihoods and had to kill livestock; their water is undrinkable and unsafe; and financial assistance has not yet been forthcoming.

Sadly, it is quite possible that other instances of farm contamination may be discovered in the future as testing of groundwater, soils and dairy products continues. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has uncovered numerous instances of PFAS contamination in groundwater and drinking water wells located near landfills; the levels of PFAS contamination near some landfills are similar to or exceed levels found at Superfund sites in Maine. The DEP has identified some 500 properties where sludge was spread over the past 40 years, but testing at most of those sites remains to be done. Fish caught in both rivers and lakes, from northern Maine to the Kennebec River, have been found to be contaminated with PFAS.

Even if we took immediate action to stop selling products containing PFAS and tomorrow stopped all land spreading of sludge, this persistent and mobile “forever chemical” will continue to leach out of landfills and from soils and travel long distances in ground water. The situation in Fairfield vividly illustrates this problem; it is possible that contamination was caused by sludge that was spread in the area at least 17 years ago.

To continue reading the testimony, the bibliography and a summary of scientific information on PFAS and COVID-19 severity and antibody response, please download a PDF of the testimony

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