Washington, D.C.—In a bipartisan, bicameral effort to provide vital assistance to farmers affected by PFAS, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden introduced the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act. The legislation, which was also co-sponsored by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), would authorize grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate.
PFAS are man-made “forever” chemicals that are used in industry and consumer products and can lead to serious health effects. PFAS contamination has prevented some Maine farms from selling their products, creating financial hardship for many family farmers. In 2016, a dairy farmer in Arundel discovered that the milk produced on his farm contained some of the highest levels ever reported for a PFAS contaminant. In 2020, a dairy farm in Fairfield found PFAS levels in its milk were 153 times higher than the Maine standard. An organic vegetable farm in Unity uncovered PFAS contamination last year, and the couple who farmed the land have higher PFAS levels in their blood than chemical plant workers who manufactured PFAS for decades. Numerous other Maine farmers have had their livelihoods disrupted due to PFAS contamination, which originated in wastewater sludge that was spread as fertilizer by farmers who were told by the government that it was safe to use.
“USDA needs to step up and provide support to farmers, who at no fault of their own, are at risk of losing their livelihoods,” said Senator Collins. “This is not just a problem in Maine—PFAS contamination has been discovered on farms in New Mexico and Michigan, and this problem will only become more evident as testing becomes more readily available. Thus far, the federal government’s response has failed to keep pace with this growing problem. I have repeatedly urged USDA Secretary Vilsack to come to the aid of these affected farmers, and the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act would finally activate the Department to help where it is needed most.
“The threat of PFAS is not a hypothetical – Maine farmers are already losing crops, land, and livestock to contaminants, and if we don’t act quick, the crisis’ human health risks will escalate,” said Senator King. “The Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act is a crucial step to assist farmers combatting the spread of PFAS and provide already-impacted farms with needed relief. The monitoring, testing, and remediation provisions in the bill will help the state study PFAS threats, clean up contaminated areas, and prevent further communities from facing the economic and health devastation of these contaminants. I hope this bipartisan, bicameral legislation can get broad support across Congress and give Maine farmers the help they deserve.”
“The more we learn about forever chemicals, the more urgent addressing widespread contamination across the nation becomes. Our farmers’ livelihoods are in jeopardy, and we must do everything we can to support them through this crisis,” said Congresswoman Pingree. “The Relief for Famers Impacted by PFAS Act establishes a federal program to help farmers in Maine and across the country address PFAS contamination—through testing and medical treatment, compensating farmers for contaminated land, implementing remediation strategies and more. Our bill is an important step forward in mobilizing whole-of-government action on the PFAS crisis that’s impacting our food supply chain, economy, and way of life.”
“At great costs to themselves, Maine farmers have gone above and beyond to protect consumers and mitigate the impacts of PFAS contamination,” said Congressman Golden. “Farms are facing deep financial hardship over a growing problem they did nothing to create. Keeping our communities and environment healthy requires a collaborative approach and this bill is a critical step toward increased partnerships to address this growing issue.”
Specifically, the funds authorized by the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act could be used for a variety of purposes at the state level, including:
The bill would also create a task force at USDA charged with identifying other USDA programs to which PFAS contamination should be added as an eligible activity. This would help bring even more resources to farmers through existing programs. Additionally, the task force would provide technical assistance to states to help them coordinate their responses effectively.
"Maine is leading the nation in cleaning up forever chemicals and supporting our farmers whose lands have been impacted, but we can do more," said Governor Janet Mills. "This funding championed by the Congressional Delegation will help Maine and other states take even more aggressive action to identify and address PFAS contamination statewide, preserving the health of our people and the health of our farmland."
The legislation has been endorsed by Maine Farmland Trust, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Organic Farmers Association, Defend Our Health, and Sierra Club Maine Chapter. Click HERE to read their statements in support of the bill.