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April 20, 2022

Maine Legislature approves ban on contaminated sludge as fertilizer

The Maine Legislature has voted to end the use of industrial and municipal sewage, often laden with so-called “forever chemicals,” as agricultural fertilizer.

The sludge has been the source of contamination from polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the state. The pollution has forced family farms to discontinue operations and even poisoned drinking water wells in some rural communities.

The legislation, LD 1911, was supported unanimously in the Senate and approved by an 85-50 vote in the House of Representatives last week. Gov. Janet Mills must sign the bill before it becomes law.

"Passing LD 1911 is vital to the prevention of further contamination. This legislation enables us to take decisive action to help future farmers and give our children safe land, capable of growing healthy food that will feed Mainers for generations to come," said state Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, the lead sponsor of the bill.

While the Maine Department of Environmental Protection began applying restrictions three years ago to limit some uses of contaminated sludge, loopholes remained.

The sludge was allowed to be composted, and the resulting material has continued to be sold to farmers, landscapers and even home gardeners. LD 1911 addresses the loopholes by putting an end to all utilization of sludge as a soil amendment or for mixing with compost.

“Every day we are hearing new stories about the devastating impacts of PFAS contamination on our farmland, our rural communities, and, most recently, our waterways,” said Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, the lead Senate co-sponsor. “We must do all that we can to stop further contamination and limit exposure to these toxic chemicals. LD 1911 will help us do just that. I'm proud that Maine is once again leading the way on this issue."

Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Cumberland, Senate chair of the Joint Environment and Natural Resources Committee, added, “The passing of LD 1911 is essential for the safety of our lands and waters. As a farmer, this is all quite personal and an essential step in righting past wrongs. When we know better, we do better. Ending the practice of spreading PFAS contaminated compost and sludge in our raised bed gardens, lawns and precious farmland is crucial."

The bill, as originally drafted, applied existing screening standards for PFAS to sludge-derived compost, and required the DEP to update the standards based on the more stringent protections enacted last year on PFAS in drinking water. But the Legislature eventually amend the bill to simply ban the use of sludge as a fertilizer or in compost.

Last year, the state enacted a ban on all nonessential uses of PFAS, to be effective in 2030.

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E2Tech is holding a forum on alternatives to sludge spreading, on Thursday April 28. Visit our website to learn more and register.

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