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Maine Work Boots Alliance opposes proposed ban on sludge

The Maine Work Boots Alliance says the ban could result in higher costs for farmers, ratepayers

AUGUSTA, Maine — A newly formed coalition of wastewater treatment district officials, business owners, and farmers rallied against a proposal that would ban wastewater sludge in compost and fertilizer, despite the sludge being tainted with chemicals known as PFAS.

The Maine Work Boots Alliance is speaking out against a proposed bill, which they claim would create another toxic problem of its own. 

"The loss of landfill capacity that future generations will no longer have to utilize," David Hughes, superintendent of the Scarborough Sanitary District, said.

An amendment to LD 1911 would outright ban the spreading of wastewater sludge as fertilizer on farmland. State environmental officials have said the majority of sludge in Maine and out of state is tainted with PFAS chemicals. 

That sludge would be shipped to landfills, which some wastewater districts and municipalities have said could double disposal costs and threaten capacity.  

"Those additional costs are going to pick up by the users of the system," Hughes said. 

The amendment also would prohibit using sludge, known as biosolids, in compost, fertilizer, and animal bedding. These products are sold in home and garden centers. But farmers dealing with the high cost of fuel have said this would force them to rely on more expensive fertilizers. 

"This would take away a soil amendment many farmers use in lieu of having to purchase commercially-prepared fertilizers," Courtney Hammon, a farmer from Harrington, said.

The newly formed alliance has been throwing its support behind a separate amendment to the majority report, sponsored by Rep. Beth O'Connor, R-Berwick, that would set limits for two common PFAS compounds in sludge. But the proposed limits are nearly 10 times higher than current state screening standards for sludge.

Earlier this year, officials from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection testified before the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee that there is enough capacity for the sludge at state landfills. This includes the Juniper Ridge Landfill operated by Casella Waste Systems. 

The company also operates the Hawk Ridge facility that makes compost. Paula Clark, director of materials management for the DEP, told lawmakers the Hawk Ridge facility "accepts a significant amount of out-of-state sludge, into their process."

Adam Nordell, owner of Songbird Farm in Unity, had to pull products from store shelves after the discovery of PFAS levels in their well that was over 400 times Maine's safe limit. His fields had been treated with sludge under the farm's previous owner.

"We cannot be trucking sludge from other states to compost in Maine to sell to gardeners and farmers. This is not the state we are in. Maine is not New England's toilet," Nordell said. 

State lawmakers are also looking at accessing federal dollars to offset costs for sewer districts and municipalities. 

The majority amendment to LD 1911 is expected to be voted on by the full house on Monday.

A vote on Rep. O'Connor's separate amendment will only happen if the majority amendment fails. 

For more information on the DEP's investigation into PFAS contamination, click here.

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