Click HERE to watch Sen. Collins’ Q&A on PFAS contamination.
Washington, D.C.—At an Appropriations hearing today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins lambasted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) lack of responsiveness to PFAS contamination that has caused substantial harm to family-owned farms in Maine.
PFAS contamination from wastewater sludge that was spread as fertilizer has prevented some Maine farms from selling their products, creating financial hardship for these family farmers and concern among the broader dairy community. 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 for determining whether it was fit for sale. Numerous other Maine farmers have had their livelihoods disrupted due to PFAS contamination.
In October 2021, Senator Collins wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to request an update on the efforts being taken to protect dairy farmers from harmful PFAS chemicals. After months without receiving a response, Senator Collins spearheaded a second letter signed by the entire Maine Delegation in March, again urging Secretary Vilsack to swiftly and fully utilize all USDA resources and authorities that can assist in responding to PFAS contamination. Secretary Vilsack finally provided a response to the second letter early this morning, fewer than 10 hours before today’s Appropriations hearing began.
“I've never received a response to my October letter. And the letter to you that we sent in March, we got the response literally at 1:24AM this morning,” said Senator Collins. “Putting that aside, will you work with us? And I mean, really work with us to identify programs that you either have now or that we could ask to be modified so that we can assist these affected farmers?”
Secretary Vilsack apologized for the lengthy delay in responding to Senator Collins’ request for information and pledged to be more responsive to congressional inquiries in the future.
“The PFAS issue, let me explain to you what I think we need to do,” Secretary Vilsack said. “We're working with EPA to try to establish a national standard on what is an acceptable level or not of PFAS. And the reason for this is so that we can basically help to define the level of assistance and help that's required. You're absolutely right, this is pervasive. It's not just in Maine, it's everywhere, because basically sludge was used to fertilize farm fields for many, many, many years without an understanding and appreciation of the challenge.
“So I would say two things,” Secretary Vilsack continued. “One, happy to work with you, happy to work with EPA, to set a national standard, happy to work with this committee or whatever committee to establish an amount of resources that would help deal with this issue. It's going to be a large amount. And then I would certainly say we need to make sure we continue to fund research because I think we're going to continue to find some challenges with reference to things that we've done for years and years and years that are now cropping up as being problems.”
Senator Collins previously urged Secretary Vilsack to take action to support dairy farmers who have been harmed by PFAS contamination at an Appropriations hearing last June. Additionally, Senator Collins recently secured $1.6 million in the Fiscal Year 2022 government funding law to support the installation of a PFAS treatment system in Madison. The facility would accept and treat contaminated manure from dairy farms across the state.