Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) is committed to ensuring a safe food supply in Maine and supporting our vibrant agricultural community. DACF is taking a leading role in responding to the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in agriculture.
On this page:
- What is PFAS?
- What's the risk?
- What's the impact to agriculture?
- Is food safe?
- What is the Maine DACF doing?
- DACF PFAS Relief Funding Programs
- Mental Health Assistance
- An evolving situation
- Additional information
PFAS are man-made chemicals that repel oil, grease, water, and heat. They became widely used in household products and industrial settings as early as the 1950s and have been used in firefighting foams due to their effectiveness at quickly extinguishing petroleum-based fires.
The PFAS chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) have been used to make a host of commercial products including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and furniture, water-resistant clothing, coated oil resistant paper/cardboard food packaging (like microwave popcorn and pizza boxes), and some personal care products.
PFOA and PFOS are widespread and persistent in the environment. Studies suggest that these chemicals may affect cholesterol levels, thyroid function, birth weight, liver function, infant development, the immune system, and may increase the risk of some cancers including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers. Health agencies are working to understand more about the health effects of low level, long-term exposure.
Agriculture and PFAS chemicals can intersect through air, water, and soil. One way that PFAS may enter soil is through the application of residuals such as biosolids, industrial sludges and ashes. The application of residuals on agricultural land is a common tool in agriculture as they contain nutrients and other organic matter that can enhance soils and agricultural production. It is a permitted and regulated activity by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Residuals are created during the waste water treatment process and it is now understood that PFAS chemicals can end up in them from everyday household activities as well as from industrial sources. The sludge, when applied to farmland, contains PFAS substances which can enter soil and water, and be taken up by the crops grown on the field, and also into the animals eating those crops. The level at which PFAS contaminants are taken up is highly variable, depending on the amount spread, the PFAS concentrations in the soil and water, the type of plant(s) grown, the type of soil, and other factors.
Unfortunately, no scientifically proven remedial method exists to remove PFAS chemicals from soils at this time.
The US Food and Drug Administration conducts national food sampling studies for PFAS contaminants. FDA has stated that its "ongoing testing of samples from the general food supply has resulted in very few having detectable levels of PFAS, and after assessing the potential health risk, we have no scientific evidence indicating a need to avoid any food in the general food supply." However, FDA does acknowledge that PFAS can be found in food where localized contamination may have occurred. More from FDA about PFAS in food.
DACF first began investing PFAS contamination at farms in 2016 when milk at a dairy in Arundel, Maine was found to contain high levels of PFOS. The Maine CDC created an Action Level for PFOS in milk: 210 parts per trillion (ppt). DACF has also conducted three statewide retail milk sampling surveys. In 2020, one retail sample indicated PFOS levels of concern, and DACF worked with the processor to trace the source milk to a contaminated farm in Fairfield, Maine. In 2020, DEP water testing resulting from that discovery detected a second PFOS impacted dairy farm, also in Fairfield. Learn more about DEP's Fairfield investigation.
DEP is also actively investigating the presence of PFAS in Maine from the land application of sludge and/or septage. Pursuant to state law, DEP must complete its testing of all sites identified through permitting records by 2025. DEP has prioritized these sites into four Tiers (I, II, III, IV) to designate the approximate schedule for sampling. Tier I and Tier II testing is underway. DACF is working closely with DEP to assist with any sites that may be active agricultural operations. Learn more about DEP's land application investigation.
To date, no federal standards have been created for PFAS in food. This has led Maine to derive a current beef PFOS Action Level for beef at 3.4 parts per billion (ppb) in addition to its milk PFOS Action Level of 210 parts per trillion (ppt).
What Happens if PFAS is Detected at a Farm?
Where PFAS contamination is confirmed in the soil and/or groundwater at a farm above screening levels, DACF is prepared to provide comprehensive assistance. DACF staff first visits the farm to talk to the producers and understand their operation, history, and potential source(s) of PFAS. DACF will craft a sampling plan for that farm, which may include testing of farm products, additional farm fields' soils, water sources, livestock, and feed to determine and monitor levels of contamination. Some sampling can be ongoing to track results over time. DACF staff will conduct the sampling at no cost to the producer. DACF's goal is to identify, then limit, or eliminate the PFAS in impacted products.
If you are a producer and have questions regarding your farm and PFAS, please email email@example.com.
Producers concerned about potential PFAS contamination in their fields or water can self-test. However, because PFAS are found in clothing and other common products, sampling must be conducted very carefully and according to certain protocols. The DEP has helpful sampling instructions for groundwater (PDF).
Soil sampling is also a specialized effort. The DEP has guidance for homeowners interested in testing soil. However, for commercial farms, it is recommended that they work with a third party skilled in soil sampling and familiar with PFAS protocols.
Testing can be expensive – not only for the appropriate bottles and gear necessary to take the sample but also for shipping and for laboratory analysis. In total, individual tests may be $200-$500. The DEP’s list of laboratories accredited in PFAS sampling is available (PDF). Guidance on interpreting water testing results is available (PDF). Interpreting other results may require the assistance of a third party familiar with PFAS and agronomy.
More information can be found at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Guide to Investigating PFAS Risk on Your Farm webpage. This is a comprehensive collection of resources about PFAS contamination in Maine. Topics include steps to determining risks and mitigation options for farms.
DACF’s goal is to support farmers facing PFAS contamination and to help them remain viable. Achieving that goal can be time-consuming, resource intensive, and costly. DACF is currently able to provide financial support in several ways.
Please note that all program policies listed below are subject to change. Payments to producers may be considered reportable income by the IRS, and producers are responsible for payment of all taxes. All programs are subject to DACF PFAS funding availability.
DACF can reimburse producers who self-test for PFAS at their farms (soil, farm water, and other media, such as milk or feed). The reimbursable costs include third-party contractors who performed the sampling and laboratory fees. However, these test results must be from a DEP-approved laboratory, and they must be shared with DACF. In addition, there must be a verified history of sludge/septage application at the farm, or history that the farm utilized off-farm manure, feed, or other inputs contaminated with PFAS, or be located near a DEP-identified location that received sludge/septage.
For more information, please review the:
Questions about testing reimbursement? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This program covers the cost of water filtration systems necessary to reduce a farm's PFAS-impacted water to below the state's interim drinking water standard of 20 ppt (measuring the sum of 6 PFAS compounds). DACF can also reimburse a farm that may have already installed water filtration on their farm well for PFAS reduction. DACF will cover yearly maintenance, testing, and replacement parts. In order to qualify, the farm's well water must exceed 20 ppt, the farm product(s) must also be impacted by PFAS, and DACF staff must be working with the farm to mitigate PFAS impacts. DACF will work with farms on a case-by-case basis to determine when water filtration systems are necessary, and to determine the appropriate size and scope fo the system. No application form is required at this point.
For more information, please review the Water Treatment Guidance (PDF).
Questions about installing a water filtration system due to PFAS contamination? Email email@example.com.
Residential wells confirmed to be contaminated are also elgibile for water filtration systems, under the oversight of DEP. You can request testing of your residential well. You may also contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
This Fund assists farmers in making the investments and pivots necessary to bridge the gap between on-farm PFAS contamination and ongoing viability. Funding examples include DACF assisting with the purchase of clean feed, installing a new well, covering the costs of moving existing fencing (or obtaining new fencing) to secure animals on clean pasture, etc.
To qualify, the farm must have DACF-confirmed unsafe levels of PFAS contamination on its farm. Further, DACF and the farm must be working together to determine the farm's scope of PFAS, with DACF conducting additional sampling to measure the effects of mitigation efforts. Requests for fund support will be subject to additional criteria and review, including but not limited to the overall cost of the request, timing considerations, alternative options, risk factors, and more.
Questions regarding eligibility and scope? Email email@example.com.
This program is intended to support producers by providing financial support where income is lost due to PFAS contamination at their farms. DACF will provide direct financial support to these farms, potentially equivalent to up to one year of lost gross income, subject to various criteria. Determining the ultimate amount of financial support is predicated on several factors, including whether the farm can return to some level of production that generates income. To qualify, the farm must have DACF-confirmed unsafe levels of PFAS contamination on its farm. Further, DACF and the farm must be working together to determine the farm's scope of PFAS, with DACF conducting additional sampling.
Questions about this program? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PFAS contamination on farmland can lead to animals becoming contaminated at levels that will be extremely difficult to depurate (reduce) in a timely or economically feasible manner. In some instances, DACF may determine that it is in the best interest of the farm to humanely euthanize the impacted animals. This fund provides compensation for the value of those animals, with rates set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Note that DACF's funding will typically not cover dairy cows, as dairy producers who participate in the USDA's separate Dairy Indemnity Payment Program (DIPP, outlined below) will have the ability to seek such assistance under that program.
Questions about livestock depopulation? Email email@example.com.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) are actively working to support Maine farmers on a variety of levels. MOFGA and MFT may be able to assist farms in the near term through their grant programs and be reimbursed by DACF. https://www.mofga.org/pfas/pfas-emergency-relief-fund/
DIPP: For dairy farms with milk contamination, the USDA's Dairy Indemnification Payment Program (DIPP) may be an option to receive compensation for the loss of income due to stopping milk production. The DIPP Program provides payments to dairy producers when a public regulatory agency (like DACF) directs them to remove their raw milk from the commercial market due to contamination by toxins (including PFAS). DIPP’s indemnity payment is calculated by multiplying the number of cows milked, times the number of days milk is off the market, times base production in terms of pounds per cow per day, times the farm price for milk less hauling and promotion fees received by the producer. DIPP may also pay producers for the value of their animals if they are depopulated.
To learn more or to participate in DIPP, Maine producers should contact their local USDA Service Center or email Amanda May, Agricultural Program Specialist at Amanda.May@usda.gov.
PFAS contamination can be extremely stressful for a farm, its family and farmworkers. There are a number of resources and helplines that can provide support.
Farmer Wellness Grants
This program was launched as is a project of the Maine Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (Maine FRSAN) funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded to DACF, and managed by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension (UMCE). The fund is now managed by MOFGA and partially funded through the PFAS Emergency Fund co‐administered by MOFGA and Maine Farmland Trust.
Eligibility and prioritization:
- All commercial farms are eligible. A farm does not need to have confirmed high PFAS test results though those farms and farm workers will be prioritized
- Farmworkers based on a farm affected by PFAS
- Indigenous food and medicine growers providing for their community
For more information, please visit mofga.org.
Maine FRSAN has a new webpage that has a lot of important links:
- Crisis lines
- Non-crisis resources
- Warning signs and symptoms of acute stress
- What to do if someone is at risk of suicide
In addition, Maine Mobile Health offers mental health counseling and referral for farmers and farm workers and offers services in English, Spanish or Haitian Creole. You have to be registered with the Maine Mobile Health network. Call 1.888.351.9634, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Farm Coaching from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Discuss planning, stress, and decision making. Visit the Farm Coaching: Supporting Relationships for Farm Success page to complete and submit a request.
The Maine Agricultural Mediation Program can talk with you about priorities, goals, and decision-making as you navigate changes in the future of the farm, immediate markets, and relationships with lenders. Contact 207.581.3487, email email@example.com or complete the form on the Request Mediation page.
More research is needed to understand how PFAS accumulates in certain plants cultivated in PFAS contaminated soils or water and to determine safe levels for consumption. However, because people typically eat a variety of foods in their diet, the risk of unsafe exposure to PFAS due to occasionally eating foods with PFAS is likely low. However, these chemicals can accumulate in the body, and people can be exposed from a variety of sources given how ubiquitous PFAS are in society. People should try and minimize known PFAS exposures whenever possible.
DACF, DEP, and Maine CDC are all working hard to advocate for additional federal support to propel the understanding and science around PFAS forward and establish additional supports for impacted homeowners, municipalities, and farmers. We are also collaborating with other states to continue to learn more about ongoing PFAS research and studies.
- If you have a private drinking water well and are concerned about potential PFAS exposure, please contact: Molly King at DEP. Molly.King@maine.gov; 207-458-8839.
- For health-related questions, please contact the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention at 207-287-4311 or 866-292-3474 toll-free in Maine and ask to speak with a toxicologist.
- Maine CDC Fact Sheet PFOA and PFOS in Private Well Water
- Maine CDC Fact Sheet PFOS, PFOA and other PFAS
- For information on public drinking water testing for PFAS, please visit the Maine CDC’s Division of Environmental and Community Health.
- For information about current deer consumption advisories, contact Maine DIFW
- US EPA PFAS
- US EPA Fact Sheet
- US EPA Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS
- ATSDR PFAS and Your Health
Information Disclaimer: The information provided on this web site is only intended to be general summary information for the public. While the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry strives to make the information on this website as timely and accurate as possible, the department makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this site, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of this site.