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Maine lawmakers seek pesticide exemption for farmers

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(The Center Square) — Maine lawmakers are considering a proposal to exempt farmers from the state’s ban on pesticides containing so-called ‘forever’ chemicals.

A proposal filed by Senate President Troy Jackson would, if approved, exempt agricultural pesticide use from the state’s would gradually phase out the sale of pesticides that “intentionally” contain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, by 2030.

Jackson said the proposed exemptions would “even the playing field” for Maine farmers with food producers in many other states not subject to similar pesticide restrictions.

“The act of limiting goods used for crop protection and production will raise costs for farmers,” the Democrat said in recent testimony to the Legislature’s Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources, which is considering the bill. “It will force them to use less effective products. This intern will likely raise the cost for all of us at the grocery store.”

The proposal is backed by the Maine Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, which have raised concerns that the proposal would hurt the competitiveness of Maine farmers.

“These products play a pivotal role in safeguarding crops from devastating diseases and pests, and help to ensure consumers have access to high-quality foods,” Ashley Luszczki, the chamber’s government relations specialist, said in a testimony.

Luszczki said the proposed agricultural exemptions are “essential to protecting the livelihoods of our farmers and preserving the economic prosperity of our state.”

But environmental groups want the state to maintain the blanket ban on PFAS pesticides, arguing that phasing out the use of the toxic compounds – which have been used to make products from non-stick frying pans to clothing – will protect the state’s environment and food that is grown locally.

“This is yet another attempt by industry and chemical manufactures to weaken mains PFA laws and allow toxic PFA to continue to poison our land and water,” Sarah Woodbury, Vice president of policy and advocacy with the nonprofit group Defend Our Health, said in testimony.

PFAS have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they can take thousands of years to degrade. Among humans, research has found potential links between high levels of PFAS and illnesses, ranging from kidney cancer to high cholesterol and problems in pregnancies.

Maine lawmakers have also banned using sludge or sludge-derived compost on farms unless tested for contamination.

Maine farmers have used sludge from wastewater treatment plants on crops for years as fertilizer. The processed wastewater is high in nutrients that are beneficial to growing.

However, soil tests on Maine farms have detected higher-than-acceptable levels of PFAS contamination, according to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.

Overall, the state agency plans to test more than 700 other farms for contamination, a costly process that officials say could take years.

Several years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set its PFAS standards, classifying the compounds as an “emerging contaminant” linked to liver cancer and other serious health problems. There are currently no federal standards for PFAS in drinking water, but guidelines set a combined limit of 70 parts per trillion.

Dozens of states are weighing plans to eliminate PFAS in food packaging and other products, in addition to setting limits on the level of contaminants in drinking water.

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