MAINE, Maine — Maine is considered a model for the rest of the country when it comes to identifying and fighting harmful chemicals known as PFAS.
But some farmers say a multi-million dollar PFAS fund established to help them deal with contamination and health impacts doesn't go far enough. They spoke out at a public hearing in Augusta Monday.
The draft PFAS Fund Implementation Plan drawn up by an advisory panel seeks to spend tens of millions on income replacement, and other programs to support dozens of farmers impacted by PFAS contamination.
Money will go to land buyouts, research, and infrastructure to help farmers pivot to new crops and production methods. The roughly $80 and a half million funds is $20 million higher than what's been approved by lawmakers.
"None of these proposals should need to compete with each other for funding," Adam Nordell, the owner of Songbird Farm, which was contaminated by PFAS, testified. Nordell and his wife had to close their organic grain farm after high levels of PFAS were discovered in their produce, soil, and drinking water.
Nordell, who has a 5-year-old son, voiced concerns that only nine percent of the 80 million dollar proposal fund will cover health-related issues, such as blood testing, medical monitoring, and mental health counseling.
"Please also make special note of the proposal that Maine should cover the cost for any treatment of PFAS-linked illnesses, it would be terrible if these costs would fall on impacted communities," Nordell said.
Arundel dairy farmer Fred Stone said he suffered serious health conditions, including Parkinson's disease, because of his exposure to the chemicals. He first sounded the alarm in 2016 about the toxic chemicals in wastewater sludge that were used as free fertilizer on his farmland and other farms statewide for decades. He said the fund's price tag doesn't go far enough.
"We have a long ways to go 80 million dollars is going to just a drop in the bucket when things are all said and done," Stone testified.
Besides income replacement, some of the money will go to hiring navigators to assist farmers in the recovery process, they will help identify resources, phone calls, and paperwork.
Members hope to finalize the recommendations at the end of next month, with the goal of distributing funds later this summer.
Comments can also be submitted through an online survey, by email to PFASFund.DACF@maine.gov, or by mail to the attention of the PFAS Fund, 22 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0022. The deadline for comments is June 19, 2023, at 11:45 p.m.