A Portland-based nonprofit group has joined forces with state representatives, health care professionals and residents to push several bills through the Maine Legislature that would deal directly with the cleanup and regulation of “forever chemicals” in food, farmland, drinking water and household products.

At a press conference Thursday morning, Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of Defend Our Health, reiterated the organization’s mission and discussed how the group has called upon the state to change its guidelines on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFOA and PFOS since 2019.

“Defend Our Health is a nonprofit public health organization that is working to create a world where all people are thriving with equal access to safe food and drinking water, healthy homes and products that are toxic free and climate friendly,” MacRoy said. “We at Defend Our Health have been raising the alarm on this issue since we first stood at Fred Stone’s farm in 2019.

“We’ve been calling on the state to stop PFAS at its source by eliminating its use in products, prevent additional contamination of farmland and to identify and remediate previously contaminated sites and drinking water. Since that day at Stoneridge Farm in 2019, the problem has only continued to grow across the state and too little has been done to stop it.”

In 2016, the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport & Wells Water District found elevated levels of PFAS in a well on the property of Fred Stone, whose family had run Stoneridge Farm for nearly a century.

Following the discovery of the contamination, Stone was forced to stop selling milk and had to kill off more than half of his herd.

The soil, grass and Fred Stone’s cows and the milk they produce have high levels of PFAS chemicals because of sewage sludge that Stone spread on the fields at Stone Ridge Farm in Arundel from 1983 to 2004. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald file

A similar situation unfolded in February 2020, when milk from the Tozier Dairy Farm in Fairfield was found to have levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid that were higher than the state-allowed limit of 210 parts per trillion.

Milk samples from the farm had levels of 12,700, 14,900 and 32,200 parts per trillion. The farm’s products were pulled from shelves in June 2020.

Investigators believe the contamination of both farms came from the use of sludge, which is wastewater solids that can come from municipal or industrial sources. It is said to have organic benefits and is allowed in Maine and other states.

Following the discovery at the Tozier Dairy Farm, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection began testing residential wells nearby and has found 29 wells in Fairfield that have levels of  PFOA and PFOS that are higher than the EPA’s maximum limit of of 70 parts per trillion.

In response, Defend Our Health and two state representatives are introducing seven bills in the 130th Legislature to deal with PFAS from many angles.

The first bill being would add a broader definition of hazardous substance to state law to include PFAS, so it could be cleaned up by the DEP. The second would provide bond funding for DEP’s cleanup program for uncontrolled sites.

PFAS were introduced in the 1940s. They were used in consumer products, such as carpeting, fabric, clothing, food packaging, and pots and pans, and in firefighting foams used at airports, firefighting training facilities and military bases. Their bond is strong, and they do not break down easily in the environment or in the body.

Studies have shown exposure can cause health issues, such as elevated cholesterol, thyroid disease, damage to the liver and kidneys, adverse effects on fertility, low birth weight and weakening of the immune system. Other studies show links between PFAS and the elevated risk of certain cancers.

Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, has submitted three bills.

“One is titled “An Act to Require the Removal of PFAS in Products and of Discharges of Firefighting Foam,” Gramlich said. “We want to make sure our first responders have everything they need in their toolbox to be effective in responding to fires. However, the foam that they use does have PFAS in it, so this bill would require that local fire departments that use class B firefighting foam in their inventories for training and first responding will cease and look for alternatives.”

Judy Poulin, 77, has had her well tested and retested. She is among a group of Fairfield residents who were instructed to stop using their well water for drinking and cooking because of the high levels of PFAS. The well is marked with an antique seeder. Poulin has lived at the house since 2003. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

The other two bills Gramlich has submitted would require DEP to test the 500 known locations that have spread potentially contaminated sludge and require manufacturers that use PFAS to report the presence of those chemicals to DEP beginning in 2023.

“The bill would also prohibit the sale of residential carpets or rugs, as well as the sale of fabric treatments that contain intentionally added PFAS, beginning in 2023,” Gramlich said. “We would also ask in this bill for the department to create a PFAS source reduction program that provides technical assistance, education and grants to publicly owned treatment works and municipalities to reduce PFAS from entering the air, water and land.”

Rep. Bill Pleucker, an independent from Warren, has submitted bills that would set a state standard for PFAS that matches the standard used in Vermont and Massachusetts — 20 parts per trillion — and address the statute of limitations in contamination cases.

“We’re seeing more and more stories of water being contaminated with toxic PFAS. There is currently no state standard for PFAS in drinking water. Maine officials have been using an outdated advisory level from the U.S. EPA of 70 parts per trillion,” Pleucker said.

“Not only have top scientists said this level is not adequately health protective, but many other states have already adopted lower levels. Water that is being consumed here in Maine would be considered contaminated and illegal to serve in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.”

Concerning the statute of limitations, the bill would extend the deadline for legal action so more victims of PFAS contamination could take legal action through the courts.

“Maine is an outlier amongst states in requiring claims to be filed within six years of the problem occurring, even though these landowners would have no way of knowing that they had received contaminated materials until recently,” MacRoy said. “The proposal would align Maine with about 37 other states that set the deadline based on when the pollution is discovered, rather than when it occurred.”

Others at Thursday’s press conference included Dr. Lani Graham, Maine’s former chief public health officer; Sharon Treat, a former legislator from Hallowell and current senior attorney at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy; and Courtney Schusheim, a mother of four from Trenton.

Ashley Gooldrup and her fiancé, Troy Reny, bought a house on Howe Road in Fairfield in 2020. Now, their well has tested astronomically high for PFAS. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I’m here to ask for strong state action to solve the PFAS contamination problems that we have across our state,” Schusheim said. “I became aware of this issue last year when our school published results of its water testing, and those results showed that our school’s drinking water contained toxic PFAS chemicals at a level that was considered dangerous by many other states.”

In December 2019, the water at Trenton Elementary School was found to have combined levels of PFOA and PFOS at 23.95 parts per trillion.

“The compelling story you just heard from a brave young mother who was fighting as any parent would for the health of her children is exactly why the rest of us are here today,” Graham said. “What mother would want her children exposed regularly to a substance whose toxic effects are not yet fully explored?”

Graham said one of the effects of PFAS exposure is troubling especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the nation and world.

“One effect that must be top of mind right now for everyone is that the family of chemicals has been linked to decreasing normal responsiveness of the immune system,” Graham said. “In this time of COVID-19, we’ve become acutely aware of the vital importance of a healthy immune system.”

Treat called Maine’s PFAS problem a disaster.

“Maine’s farmers and their neighbors are on the front lines. Their health is threatened by contaminated water and soils,” Treat said. “This is a crisis on many fronts and it needs a comprehensive and a timely response from Maine government.

“The governor’s task force on PFAS helped define the extensive scope of the problem and guided data collection that definitively established that multiple water systems have been contaminated. It also showed fish caught in both lakes and rivers, including the Kennebec River, were contaminated with PFAS. What has been revealed so far is really just the tip of the iceberg.”

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