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Farmers want bill to ban ‘forever chemical’ sludge in fields

February 25, 2022 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine farmers want lawmakers to pass a bill banning fertilizer and compost containing wastewater sludge that’s been linked to toxic industrial compounds associated with serious health conditions.

Sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they last so long in the environment, these per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, can make their way into the water and food supply.

Farming families held a press conference Wednesday in front of the state capitol to ask lawmakers to consider supporting legislation from Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, to ban fertilizer containing untreated sludge, The Portland Press Herald reported.

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One of the famers, Nell Finnigan, said sludge was spread on a nearby farm decades ago, but still leached into groundwater that feeds wells on his Albion farm. Tests show his well water has elevated PFAS levels, shuttering operations.

The farmers are also asking lawmakers for financial assistance amid a statewide investigation to determine if their properties are still safe for farming.

Maine banned using sludge with high levels of PFAS in 2019. But sludge from wastewater treatment facilities can still be sold if it’s been taken to a compost facility to be dried, although the PFAS levels remain the same, the newspaper reported. The compost can be bought by farmers, landscapers and home gardeners.

The state estimates $20 million in annual costs for PFAS testing and installing water filtration systems where needed.