Fred Stone pets Marybell, a Swiss limousin calf born at his Arundel dairy farm in December. A bill that would require the state to buy farms rendered unsafe for food production because of contamination met with a lukewarm response in a committee hearing at the State House in Augusta on Monday. “I was doing good before all this, but now my business, my land, it’s worthless. I can’t earn a living,” Stone said. “I get by on food stamps, welfare and help from my friends. I’m 66 years old. I’m tired of fighting. I need the state to do the right thing and buy me out.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Fred Stone still thinks of himself as a dairy farmer, but it has been six years since the Arundel man has sold any milk or earned so much as a dime from Stoneridge Farm.

That is when Stone, now 66, first learned his farm was contaminated by dangerous forever chemicals left behind from state-licensed sludge he’d used to fertilize his fields for almost 20 years. The sludge that the state had assured Stone was safe had left sky-high levels of perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in his farm wells and fields. His milk had PFAS levels as high as 1,420 parts per trillion, which is more than is nearly seven times the 210 parts per trillion limit that Maine later set.

PFAS are a class of over 7,000 manmade chemicals used since the 1950s in industrial and household products like waterproof clothing, non-stick cookware, and firefighting foam. They have been linked to cancer, kidney malfunction, immune system suppression and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

Maine has set PFAS safety levels for drinking water and some food milk, beef, fish, and game, and is in the process of setting standards for other fruits, vegetables, and livestock, to both guide farmers and protect consumers.

Stone tapped his savings and took out loans to try to rescue his farm, but nothing worked: not the $23,000 water filtration system, not trucked-in feed, not even culling most of his beloved herd.

“I’m half a million dollars in debt and I’ve got nothing to show for it but heartache,” Stone said. “I’m a dairy farmer who can’t sell his milk, through no fault of my own. I was doing good before all this, but now my business, my land, it’s worthless. I can’t earn a living. I get by on food stamps, welfare and help from my friends. I’m 66 years old. I’m tired of fighting. I need the state to do the right thing and buy me out.”


A bill introduced by Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, would require the state to offer to buy farms contaminated by PFAS left behind by its decades-long sludge-spreading program at a fair market value price. The bill directs the state to value the land as if it were not contaminated and sets a minimum price per acre of no less than $20,000, a number Parry said was based on what it would cost Stone to buy another property suitable for dairy farming. If Parry’s bill becomes law, Maine would buy Stoneridge Farm for about $2 million.

“It’s time to help these farms and farmers now, not five to 10 years from now, which is usually how government works,” Parry said Monday at a public hearing before the Legislature’s agriculture, conservation and forestry committee. “Most farmers are older and don’t have the time to wait for years of help. … Some of the numbers look big, but let’s remember these farms have lost millions of dollars. Some have not been able to sell anything from their farms in over the last five years. They have been destroyed.”


The bill met with a lukewarm response from the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, as well as some lawmakers and farming advocates who have actively lobbied for state assistance to farmers hurt by forever chemicals. Some questioned the $20,000 dollar-per-acre minimum included in the bill, either saying it was too high or shouldn’t be written into state statute, while others urged lawmakers to wait until an advisory committee had decided how best to distribute a $60 million PFAS emergency relief fund.

Fred Stone’s dairy farm in Arundel was the first in Maine to be shut down due to PFAS contamination. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I would ask the committee to allow this process to unfold so that we may perform the duties to which we have been charged,” said Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, who is the Senate chair of the Legislature’s environment and natural resources committee and herself an organic farmer. “The membership of the committee is united in our intent to build a strong and effective safety net for those impacted in the farming community.”

Farmland in Maine is valued at about $2,860 an acre, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That value will vary depending on where that acre is located, with values in the south and along the coasts much higher than in other areas. Even the much higher national average of $5,050 is still just a quarter of what Parry’s bill would direct the state to pay for a contaminated farm. Even some bill supporters, like Sarah Woodbury of Defend our Health, said the $20,000 an acre requirement was too high.


“Twenty thousand dollars is far above the average price of farmland and will require funding the state simply cannot provide,” said Woodbury, the nonprofit’s director of advocacy.

The director of the PFAS Fund Advisory Committee, Beth Valentine, told state lawmakers this month that the fund is likely to issue its first payouts this summer. Those are unlikely to be farm buyouts, however. Based on discussions at a committee meeting Monday afternoon, they are more likely to be payments to replace lost income for farmers who must pull their products from the market or payments to buy equipment needed to raise new PFAS-resistant crops or livestock.

Valentine urged lawmakers to give the process the time to play out and warned that Parry’s bill requiring the state to buy contaminated farms for a minimum flat fee could take money away from other important fund goals, such as replacing farmers’ lost income or making mortgage payments, equipment purchases, health monitoring and medical care, a wide range of chemical testing, research, and educational programs.

The farm buyback program is still in the earliest stages of development. The PFAS Fund members tasked with creating the buyback program are still asking big-picture questions: Should the state buy the whole farm or just the contaminated area? Is a state buyout a last resort, or available to any impacted farmer who wants it? What will the state do with the contaminated farm after it takes possession?

One thing members agree upon, however, is that the buyout price should be based on a farm’s pre-contamination value.



That is the kind of talk that prompted Parry to submit his bill. He said that he supports the PFAS Fund Advisory Committee’s work to establish a buyback program for the farms that will learn of PFAS contamination problem in the months and years to come. But he thinks that farmers like Stone, who were among the first to have their farms idled by PFAS and have gone broke waiting for the state to come around, need a buyout offer right now, not a year or two from now.

Fred Stone at his Arundel dairy farm on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“We in government tend to wait forever and these farmers need help now,” Parry said. “We can’t wait five or 10 years to help these older farmers. They don’t have that time to wait.”

To date, the state has found higher PFAS contamination at 56 farms across Maine, most of which were located within a tenth of a mile of a site where Maine had approved the high-volume or high-frequency application of sludge or septage. The state departments of environmental protection, agriculture and health are working together to investigate more than 1,000 sites where septage and sludge were spread in Maine. So far, about 30 percent of the wells at the sites where the most sludge was spread the most often have had high PFAS levels.

The state has provided about $2 million in financial assistance to farmers so far as it tries to determine how to clean up the chemicals, if possible, or help farmers change their farming methods to avoid tainted fields, water sources, or food sources, officials say. About $1 million of that has been spent on income replacement for about eight farms that were unable to sell products due to PFAS contamination, according to the PFAS Fund subcommittee overseeing financial assistance to farmers.

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