The committee tasked with helping Maine farmers survive a forever chemical nightmare caused by the state’s long-ago sludge-spreading program is saying the planned bailout could cost $20 million more than expected.

The five-year plan to help Maine farms survive the fallout now has an estimated $80.6 million price tag, including $37.3 million for direct financial support to farmers, $25.2 million to buy contaminated farms, $10.8 million for agricultural research and $7.3 million on medical testing and monitoring.

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

Beth Valentine, director of the fund, told lawmakers Monday that she wasn’t worried about the overage now.

“As we start rolling out the program, we’re going to have a better sense of which strategies are going to be adopted by how many people and what the actual budget costs are going to be,” Valentine said. “The important thing to look at is the overall breakdown of the proportion dedicated to each category.”

Maine is halfway through its review of 1,100 sites where sludge was used as farm fertilizer. To date, it has found 56 farms with high levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of chemicals linked to slow fetal growth, thyroid disease, liver enzyme alterations and cancers.

The Legislature created the $60 million PFAS Emergency Fund last April, but contaminated farms can’t tap into it until a 15-person advisory committee of farmers, lawmakers, scientists and industry members come up with a detailed plan on how to spend it.


The panel will hold a June 12 hearing on its plan before sending a final version to the state on July 10.

The committee wants the state to buy contaminated farms at a price that reflects what they would be worth if no PFAS was present, Valentine said. The state would look for ways to put the farm back to work growing PFAS-resistant crops or hold on to it until the field of PFAS remediation advances.

Scientists know how to filter forever chemicals from water, or at least below proposed federal drinking water levels, although filtration requires the installation of expensive systems and annual maintenance. They do not yet know how to remove PFAS from land short of excavating the tainted soil itself.

The committee has toyed with the idea of converting some of the contaminated farms to solar farms.

Upon purchase, the state Department of Agriculture would attach a covenant to the deed to indicate the land had been contaminated so that it could not be resold to an unwitting buyer in the future. Many farmers now facing PFAS contamination bought their farms without knowing about the parcel’s sludge history.



In addition to replacing lost wages for up to two years, the committee wants to earmark some financial assistance to farmers to establish a roster of experts, like accountants, business planners, and production specialists, that can help farmers transition to new kinds of growing or livestock operations.

One of the most unique parts of the direct assistance fund is the hiring of PFAS response navigators.

“These are not technical experts, rather they are people who are very familiar with all of the available resources that are out there,” she said. “One impacted farmer said to me, ‘We just feel tired.’ They need someone to help them sort out what the resources are, what the potential paths forward are, and help.”

The committee wants the farmers to be paid $28 an hour for the time spent responding to PFAS crisis.

“Once PFAS contamination has been verified at a farm, the farmer needs to devote time to figuring out how to proceed,” the committee wrote in its draft proposal. “This is separate from time spent on routine operation of the farm.”

The plan also calls for marketing assistance to be made available to impacted farmers to share the news with their customers, both at the time they learn about the contamination and as they take steps to farm again, either in a new location, under remediation conditions or growing a new PFAS-resistant crop.


The first Maine dairy farms that discovered PFAS in their milk as early as 2016 had to suffer through the situation largely on their own, hunting for a source and then a solution to the contamination before they ran out of money, gave up and closed their doors.

But in 2021, when a second round of farms began to announce they, too, had found high PFAS levels farms, groups like Maine Farmland Trust and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association stepped in to help keep the farmers afloat while the state came up with its own plan to help.

From July 2021 through February 2023, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry spent $1.4 million to help 17 farms, according to a state records request. A little less than half of that, or about $646,000, was used to replace lost income reported by eight farms.

About $454,000 was spent to help farmers stay in business, but in different ways: through the purchase of greenhouses that do not make use of tainted soil, buying new equipment if changing to a new crop, or the purchase of clean feed to care for a herd that can no longer graze.

It paid $241,000 to a single farm – Tozier Farm, a 10th generation dairy in Fairfield – for indemnification of its herd, which had the highest levels of one particular forever chemical, PFOS, ever tested in North America, according to records.

Once the PFAS Fund plan is approved, such payments can be transferred from the agriculture department’s regular budget to the special PFAS fund, and some of the big-ticket items that have been on hold, such as the state purchase of contaminated farms, can begin.

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