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Updated: March 14, 2023

Bill would help farmers affected by 'forever' chemicals

Farmers in Maine and elsewhere in the country affected by "forever" chemicals would receive financial assistance and other relief under a federal bill introduced by Maine's congressional delegation.

"The Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act" is a bipartisan, bicameral effort to help farmers affected by man-made forever chemicals known as PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s and can lead to serious health effects.

Contamination by PFAS has prevented some Maine farms from selling their products, creating financial hardship for many that the bill is seeking to help. The bill was introduced by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Jared Golden, D-2nd District. It was cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. and U.S. Rep. Leger Fernández, D-N.M.

Sarah Alexander
File photo
Sarah Alexander, MOFGA director

Numerous Maine farmers have had their livelihoods disrupted by PFAS, which originated in sludge spread as fertilizer by farmers who were told by the government that it was safe to use, according to a press release about the bill.

If passed, the measure would authorize grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate.

The bill would also create a task force at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would be charged with identifying other USDA programs to which PFAS contamination should be added.  

“USDA needs to step up and provide support to farmers, who through no fault of their own are at risk of losing their livelihoods,” Collins said. “This is not just a problem in Maine — PFAS contamination has been discovered on farms across the country, 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."

Pingree, a longtime farmer who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, called the bill "an important step forward in mobilizing whole-of-government action in response to PFAS contamination that’s impacting our food supply chain, economy and way of life.”

The bill is backed by groups that include the Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, shortened as MOGFA.

“Maine farmers, residents and policymakers are in the painful position of leading the country on mitigating the horrible impacts of PFAS,” said Sarah Alexander, MOGFA's executive director. "Maine has created essential policies to help farmers who have suffered consequences of forever chemicals through no fault of their own. Sen. Collins’ bill signals an opportunity for the federal government to coordinate a response so that farmers across the country will have the support they need to address PFAS contamination.”

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