AUGUSTA — Lawmakers signaled support this week for a bill that would halt the use of sewage sludge in land applications and composting, marking what could be the next step in the state’s response to the prevalence of harmful “forever chemicals.”

Following a lengthy work session Monday, 10 of the 13 members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee agreed on an amended version of LD 1911, which would stipulate that sludge could not be spread on land or used in composting unless it tested under the state’s screening levels for multiple types of PFAS compounds.

Due to concerns over the bill’s short-term impact to wastewater treatment facilities, which will have to divert the material to landfills, the amended bill would create a fund to assist municipalities in transitioning away from land application and composting sludge.

The bill is set to go before the full Legislature this session after the committee conducts a language review.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been used for decades in a vast array of consumer goods, including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and fabrics, waterproof clothing and grease-resistant food packaging. The chemicals have been linked to a host of health problems, including cancer, kidney malfunction and immune system suppression.

PFAS contamination in Maine has been linked to spreading sludge — the solid byproduct from municipal wastewater treatment — which has been used as an alternative to fertilizer since the 1970s. However, recent discoveries of elevated levels of the compounds at and around farms in Arundel and Fairfield have set off a series of new state policies and legislation.


While the use of sludge for land applications and composting has decreased markedly since 2019 due to PFAS concerns, lawmakers argue that “loopholes” have still allowed some applications to continue despite the heightened scrutiny of the material.

One such rule has allowed sludge that tests high for at least one type of PFAS to still be spread or used in composting as long as the soil meets screening standards. Committee members sought to strike a balance between legislation that addresses the immediate crisis while also taking into account the added costs for municipalities to dispose of the material.

Travis Peaslee, general manager of the Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority, who provided testimony against the bill last month, declined to comment on the committee’s decision, but said he appreciates the “consideration of proposing such that would lessen the burden of impacts this bill would create on Lewiston and Auburn users.”

Sharon Treat, senior attorney at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, who has testified on the bill, released a statement that encourages the committee “to work together to agree on the details of the municipal assistance fund, and for those members voting against the bill to reconsider their votes.”

“Farmland and good soils are too precious to destroy in exchange for short-term cost savings on waste disposal,” she said. “There are legitimate concerns about increased costs, and the amended bill does address those concerns. But the reality is Maine is already facing a massive PFAS-caused financial bill that will only worsen unless sludge-spreading is stopped now.”

During the work session, several committee members said they had received a number of phone calls from municipal staff with concerns over the capacity for landfills to accept the added sludge.


Officials from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, however, said the state landfill at Juniper Ridge in Old Town has the capacity to handle the material. Paula Clark, director of material management for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, estimated the bill would result in less than 25,000 cubic yards — or 6,750 tons — of material being diverted to landfills.

In 2020, Juniper Ridge received 835,000 tons of waste, 82,400 of which was sludge. In 2021, that number rose to about 90,000, she said.

Some committee members questioned how a related bill, which seeks to limit the amount of out-of-state construction debris that ends up at Juniper Ridge, could impact the waste stream.

Clark said the landfill, which is operated by Casella Waste Systems, uses the debris as “bulking” material for diluting the sewage sludge. If that is removed, the operation will have to use an alternative material, she said.

Rep. Jeff Hanley, R-Pittston, who eventually voted against forwarding the bill, said he was concerned about creating “unintended consequences,” including causing a “stampede toward getting all this material into landfills.”

Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, the committee chairwoman, said LD 1911 amounted to “one of those opportunities when you know better, you do better.”


She said she wants nothing more than to divert material from landfills, but said the state “has the responsibility to contain the PFAS problem as much as we’re able to.” Containing it in landfills is better than allowing it to be spread elsewhere, especially on farmland, she said.

Hanley agreed in principle to the amended bill but said the committee needed more time to nail down the specifics on how the change would impact the finances of water treatment facilities.

The specific funding mechanism for municipalities will be handled during language review.

The Maine Legislature passed a series of bills last year to address the PFAS issue, including lowering the legal limit for PFAS in drinking water, and requiring the Maine DEP to test every site where sludge has been spread.

Since then, the DEP has prioritized the state’s sites into four tiers to designate a schedule for testing. According to the department, the sites identified in Tier 1 were those where at least 10,000 cubic yards of sludge had been applied to fields within half a mile of homes. Lewiston and Auburn were among the Tier 1 municipalities.

Clark said Monday that state testing so far has found multiple sites that exceed the screening standards.

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