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Federal bill could help Maine farmers impacted by PFAS chemicals

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, plans to introduce a bill that would provide financial assistance to impacted farmers.

MAINE, USA — Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is expected to file a bill that would provide grants to states to help farmers reeling from contamination from industrial chemicals known as PFAS.

Recent legislation co-sponsored by Collins would establish a PFAS contamination working group that could leverage more research by academic institutions, including the University of Maine.

Fred Stone, the Arundel dairy farmer who first sounded the alarm about PFAS chemicals, is hopeful potential federal legislation will provide financial help to impacted farmers. For the past two decades, this packed barn in the Granite State is where you will find Stone and his wife Laura around the animals he loves.

With the help of his friends, Mike and Karen Cronin, Stone is showing his prize brown swiss and Holstein cows at the Deerfield Fair in Deerfield, New Hampshire. It's a tradition that started back in 4H in high school.

"My wife and I met showing cows some 50 years ago," Stone said.

But it's only a fraction of the original herd raised on the historic Stone Ridge farm for generations.

"It broke our hearts so much when we had to slaughter 80 percent of the herd," Stone said. Stone is still showing his cows despite the fact he hasn't been able to sell their milk for nearly six years.

RELATED: 'There are no tears left' Arundel dairy farmer devastated by PFAS fights for state help

The family's legacy took a hit after high levels of PFAS chemicals were discovered in his cow's milk, soil, feed, and drinking water. 

Since then, he has also fought to be compensated for his dead cows through the US Department of Agriculture's Dairy Indemnity Program. This forced him to go on public assistance just to survive, and he knows he is not alone. 

"There are farms dying now," Stone said. 

But he has new hope about federal legislation aimed to help farms deal with the aftermath of contamination.

"The farm bureau is going to push it. Then yes, I do have faith Sen. Collins will do what she promised she will do," Stone said.

In a statement, Collins told NEWS CENTER Maine she is continuing to press the USDA for compensation.

"Forever chemicals are increasingly being found in soil, water, animal feed, crops, and livestock in Maine, causing substantial harm to the livelihoods of family farmers," Collins said. 

“I have repeatedly pressed USDA Secretary Vilsack to provide affected farmers with compensation for their losses, and I am currently drafting legislation that would authorize grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate to new, uncontaminated land," the senator said.  

She continued, "Additionally, I recently joined Sen. Peters in introducing a bill to establish a PFAS contamination working group that would spur cooperation across government at all levels, leverage PFAS research by academic institutions such as UMaine, and require USDA to engage on this issue to support farmers.”

The proposed bill could be modeled after Maine's efforts, including a $60 million fund, LD 2013, approved earlier this year by state lawmakers. The fund overseen by a task force made up of health experts to farmers could move ahead by the end of October. Sarah Woodbury is the Director of Advocacy for Defend Our Health, which helped write the law that created the PFAS fund.

"Maine is looking at not only impacts on agriculture, and studying what they can do around other crops, but also health impacts," Woodbury said.

As for Fred, he has no plans to stop speaking out and fighting to make sure farms hanging by a thread are made whole again.

"I'd hate to see other people go through the same blood bath we have had to endure," Stone said.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry launched a short-term income replacement program to help farms devastated by PFAS contamination.     

For more information on Maine's PFAS investigation being conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection, click here.

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