UMaine Extension: PFAS and the Maine Food System
University of Maine Cooperative Extension and other statewide partners are providing communities with important information and responses regarding PFAS.
What are PFAS?
None of us want contaminants in our food! Review this brochure reprint, created by members of the PFAS in Maine Cohort, for answers to frequently asked questions.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1940s in household products and industrial settings for their ability to repel oil, grease, water, and heat.
PFAS can be found in fire retardants, non-stick cookware, and some manufacturing facilities.
Keep in Mind:
- PFAS are getting a great deal of press because we are only recently learning the extent of their presence in Maine.
- Most people are exposed to PFAS from either diet, drinking water or both. Young children are also exposed from household dust that can contain PFAS from its use to make furniture and carpets stain resistant. Food from a farm or garden impacted by PFAS may be another potential source of PFAS exposure.
- Research is ongoing and there is a lot we still don’t know about PFAS. Scientists of all types from Maine and elsewhere are working to bring more clarity and facts to light. In the future, this research will help us to more fully assess the risks posed by PFAS exposure.
- Uncertainty can be stressful. If PFAS exposure is a source of stress for you or your neighbors, please reach out to Maine 211 or call 2-1-1 for support resources.
Human Health Concerns
PFOA and PFOS are two of the better studied PFAS compounds and are known to cause human harm in very small quantities. Therefore, eating food or drinking water contaminated with PFAS may be a concern. If you suspect you have been exposed to PFAS through contaminated water or food, talk with your primary care provider.
How have PFAS impacted farms?
Due to their widespread use, PFAS have made their way into our waste stream. Since the 1980s, some farms used sludge from waste treatment facilities as a low-cost fertilizer source. This was considered a safe and beneficial use at the time and farmers who used it were unaware that, in some cases, the sludge they were spreading contained concerning levels of PFAS. Because they are resistant to breakdown in the environment, these compounds have remained in the soil, been taken up by plants, made their way into animals that eat those plants, and in some cases leached into both surface and groundwater.
- Assessing PFAS Contamination on Dairy Farms in Maine
- Guide to Investigating PFAS Risk on Your Farm — This guide was created and will be updated by the Maine PFAS Cohort, made up of representatives from Northern Tilth, LLC, Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Maine Cooperative Extension, Winslow Agricultural, LLC, Maine Organic Farmers, and Gardeners Association, Maine Farmland Trust, The Mitchell Center, and Sheepscot Valley Farm.
Supplemental Resources: FAQs about PFAS Contamination
This brochure was created and reviewed by a team of ag service professionals and includes common questions about PFAS contamination and what to do if you are concerned about contamination on your farm.
Available for download in English and Spanish:
- Brochure to Download (English): What can I do to protect myself and my farm? Knowledge is the best way to ease your worries and fears. (PDF)
- Brochure to Download (Spanish): PFAS: ¿Qué puedo hacer para protegerme a mí y a mi finca? El conocimiento es la mejor manera de tranquilizar sus preocupaciones y miedos. (PDF)
How could PFAS make its way to a home garden?
- Potential sources of PFAS in the home garden include:
- Being located on land that was once farmland with a history of sewage sludge application.
- Amendment with topsoil from farmland with a history of sewage sludge application.
- Amendment with bulk or bagged products containing sewage sludge, compost, or animal manure contaminated with PFAS.
- Irrigation with water from a source that contains PFAS.
Note: Because they are so common, most soil in Maine likely has at least a background level of PFAS (0.5 – 1 parts per billion). However, levels of contamination vary greatly based on the contamination level of what has been applied to the soil.
There are many ways individuals can be exposed to PFAS, including their clothing, what pans or utensils they cook with, their water source, personal care products, and materials in their homes. Your garden also may be one potential source of PFAS exposure.
There are a number of routes that PFAS may have taken into your garden as outlined in this section:
- Understanding PFAS and Your Home Garden
Compiled and Reviewed by:
- Rebecca Long, Sustainable Agriculture, and Horticulture Professional, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
- Rick Kersbergen, Extension Professor Sustainable Dairy and Forage Systems, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
- Caleb Goosen, Organic Crop and Conservation Specialist, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)
- Andrew Smith, State Toxicologist, Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
- Tracy Kelly, Public Service Coordinator, Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
- Matt Wallhead, Assistant Professor of Horticulture, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
- Caragh Fitzgerald, Associate Professor of Agriculture, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Uncertainty can be stressful. If PFAS exposure is a source of stress for you or your neighbors, please reach out to Maine 211 or call 2-1-1 for support resources.
Maine Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (ME-FRSAN) has gathered wellness resources from Maine PFAS Farmer Wellness Fund, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) for those working in agricultural fields dealing with PFAS-related stressors.
For garden- and farm-related PFAS questions:
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Phone: 207.581.3188, 1.800.287.0274 (in Maine)
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)
Anna Libby, Community Education Director
For health-related questions:
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
For questions about DEP PFAS testing, “Tier” status of your property, concerns about your residential well, and spreading-record details for your property:
Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP):
Tracy Kelly, Public Service Coordinator
Additional Resources for More Information
To direct questions to University of Maine Cooperative Extension, please email: extension.PFASQuestions@maine.edu