ALBION, Maine — More than 50 farms across Maine have been flagged by regulators as having some type of contamination from toxic chemicals known as PFAS.
The industrial compounds were in wastewater sludge trucked to farms and used as fertilizer, leaching into well water and soil for decades.
A number of farms had to pull their products from the shelves, including Misty Brook Farm in Albion. Now a little more than a year later, the organic farm in Kennebec County is finally emerging from the crisis, but challenges remain.
The farm sits on more than 600 acres and is owned by Brendan and Katia Holmes. The father of three said the operation is finally beginning to emerge from what many would describe as a year from hell.
"Cash flow is really tight. We're behind on some of our bills," Brendan explained.
Almost a year ago, the couple had to replace an entire herd of Jersey cows after they consumed hay contaminated with PFAS chemicals purchased from an organic farm. That farm was not aware of the contamination at the time.
Misty Brook was forced to pull dairy and meat products from more than 50 stores and pay for their testing. That included throwing 6,000 pounds of meat inventory in the landfill and throwing away milk from the contaminated cows.
"We had to dump their milk every day for 11 months to get their levels to non-detect," Katia said.
State agricultural officials test the milk every other week and have approved putting dairy products from the impacted cows back on the shelves. The farm's pork and beef are also testing below the state's safety limits.
The couple is working on transitioning 100 acres of their land that was flagged for low levels of the chemicals after being spread with sludge years ago.
"We are looking into grain production because the grain seeds don't take up the compounds," Katia added.
The couple is still waiting for payments for the loss of tens of thousands of gallons of milk from the USDA's Dairy Indemnity Payment Program, which disqualifies the farm from getting help for their milk losses from Maine's Income Replacement program.
In a statement, Jim Britt, the spokesman for Maine's Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry tells News Center, "Misty Brook has received over $300,000 through the Income Replacement program for losses from other facets of their business. Misty Brook also received $100,000-plus in state assistance for clean feed and farm improvements and will continue to receive financial help covering milk and animal testing costs. Farm improvement payments are expected to increase as well," Britt said.
Katia who sits on financial and business support, research, health, and land transfer sub-committees managing a 60 million dollar PFAS fund is grateful that their customers and the community stuck by them.
PFAS testing results on their products are available on the farm's website. She hopes their efforts will inspire other farms.
"We proved there is a way to move forward and be an example for others to continue," Katia said.
For more information on Maine's PFAS investigation, visit here.