canada africa partner reservation PFAS in the problem of water farming, UMES organizes a session with stakeholders; lessons we learned from Maine

PFAS in the problem of water farming, UMES organizes a session with stakeholders; lessons we learned from Maine

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By Gail Stephens

PRINCESS ANNE – The University of Maryland Eastern Shore hosted a discussion on PFAS late last month with representatives from federal and state agencies, researchers and Maine stakeholders.

The man-made forever chemicals began gaining public attention in Maine in 2021, which has since become a model for other states as PFAS becomes an emerging problem.

“The focus of this collaborative workshop is on a better understanding of PFAS, gained from those who have experienced its challenges and from those who are determined to find solutions and ways forward,” said Dr. Moses T. Kairo, dean of the UMES School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences.

“Our goal as a university is to identify the research, outreach and support we can provide to Maryland citizens in addressing these issues through our Agricultural Experiment Station, UMES Extension and by exploring the establishment of a dedicated center.”

Dr. Greg Allen, an environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office and UMES alumnus, said the agency finds that per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances are widely distributed in the environment.

“They have one of the strongest chemical bonds known, leading to persistence and bioaccumulation. This perfect storm will be part of the ecological landscape for a very long time. It will be in every corner of what EPA does.”

There are an estimated 12,000 compounds in this classification, Allen said. They have been used commercially for their water-repellent properties in paper products, food packaging and clothing, stain resistance, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam.

The worrying scenario is that they enter groundwater through wastewater and biosolids, with the potential to enter agriculture and fisheries.

Allen reported the agency’s key actions based on its four-year strategic plan (2021-2024) to address PFAS. On April 10, the agency finalized maximum contamination limits for six forms of PFAS. The drinking water rule is 4 parts per trillion (for PFOA and PFOS), the limit at which reliable and repeated testing can be done, he said. The analytical methods have been approved and are awaiting publication. Other areas looking at health impacts, air regulation, aquatic life, risk assessments and hazard designation in super funds are underway.

“We want healthy, safe farms,” Allen said. “We want to understand the risks and manage them as best as possible.”

Congress appropriated $8 million to the EPA last fiscal year to work with USDA to fund research that prioritizes helping farmers, ranchers and rural communities manage PFAS impacts, reduce exposure to the food supply and promoting the viability of farms.

To address PFAS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Food Safety and Inspection Service has collected and tested samples for 16 different PFAS in recent years (2019), said Gregory Jaffe, senior advisor for regulatory affairs at the USDA Secretariat. FSIS shares information, including testing methods, with state and federal partners to evaluate local problem areas and address remediation.

Other agencies within USDA also have several PFAS-related programs that can provide support to farmers, rural communities, public water systems, as well as programs that invest in PFAS research through the Agricultural Research Service, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Natural Resources Conservation. Employ.

What Maine can teach others about PFAS

This was the case for Maine, where PFAS was first detected in 2016 on a dairy farm. Maine now serves as an agricultural model for other states through a USDA PFAS cooperative agreement. USDA was allocated (FY23) $5 million for producer support and testing, with priority given to states with “established tolerance thresholds for PFAS in agricultural food systems or products.”

“Maine met the criteria for an agricultural food product. The rest of us can learn from them,” Jaffe said. “However, agriculture is a small part of the larger federal PFAS initiative.”

The largest source of contamination in Maine came from industrial biosolids from paper processing plants spread as sludge on farmland, a practice that was banned in 2022, said Caleb Goossen, organic crop specialist for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. PFAS, he said, enter the farm through water, soil additives and chemical inputs.

A governor’s task force was formed in 2019, followed by soil and groundwater research two years later. Where there was industrially contaminated wastewater, greater impacts were seen, Goossen said. Also close to an old military base that is heavily contaminated with firefighting foam.

Maine became the first state to ban products containing PFAS in 2021, but the legislation won’t take effect until 2030. Last year, a PFAS Response Program from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry created $60 million in funds to help farms. this year. Funds will be used for farmer support and technical assistance, along with an emergency fund for testing assistance, income replacement and mental health support. A multi-agency collaboration focuses on tackling PFAS problems.

“We are ahead of the curve, but are waiting on federal regulations and guidelines for recovery,” Goossen said. Maine has 68 farms that have at least one test that exceeds a screening level.

What’s next for Maryland and PFAS?

“Maryland has taken a proactive role in understanding, reducing and communicating the risk posed by PFAS exposure as the problem has become a national concern. This includes new sampling and assessment, applying updated science and working with other agencies and local governments,” said Bradley Baker, senior program manager with the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Resource Management Program, after the workshop.

“The recently adopted Hazardous Substances rule and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s enforceable drinking water standards for these chemicals will strengthen our work to protect public health.”

Rachel Jones, director of government relations for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, also supports federal research and science.

“We want to be careful, data-driven and scientifically based when determining what is safe. Farmers also want healthy soils and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, using best management practices.”

In Somerset County, the Sanitary District has applied to the Maryland Department of the Environment for financial assistance to install carbon filtration systems on wells near sewers in Princess Anne to remove the tannins and lignin that give water the color of weak tea. to decrease. While there has been no response from the state to the request, such a system, if funded, would be useful to also reduce the presence of PFAS in water if detected.

— Gail Stephens is an agricultural communications specialist for the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, UMES Extension.