In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, dairy farmer Fred Stone walks to his baling machine at his dairy farm in Arundel, Maine. The farm has been forced to shut down after sludge spread on the land was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

If you’re concerned about so-called forever chemicals in your soil or groundwater, an online map shows areas where the toxins have already been identified or are likely to be found.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental and Geographic Analysis Database maintains and updates a map of sites potentially at risk for dangerous levels of toxins referred to as PFOS and PFAS.

One of the ways the chemicals get into the environment is from the spreading of sludge or septage. Those are the sites identified on the Environmental and Geographic Analysis Database’s map as potential areas of contamination.

The chemicals — perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are known as “forever chemicals” because of how long they take to completely break down in the environment and in the human body. They are used in industrial and household products and have been found to pose health risks in humans.

Now that the chemicals have been linked to serious health threats in humans, the state is actively investigating these sites. In addition, dangerous levels of forever chemicals have been found in Maine’s deer meat,  chicken eggs,  dairy milk, soil and groundwater.

“Licenses have been issued for both types of materials to be land applied in accordance with Maine’s solid waste management rules, and the licensing requirements for each of these categories is slightly different,” according to David Madore, deputy commissioner at the Maine DEP.  “Neither form of material is worse than the other.”

Sludge is the solid, semi-solid or liquid waste that comes from municipal wastewater treatment plants, according to the Maine DEP. It includes industrial, domestic and commercial waste like  food scraps, fats, oils, grease, soaps and chemicals. For decades sludge has been spread as a fertilizer on agricultural land in Maine.

Septage is a liquid mix of household sewage and sludge collected from septic tanks. Spreading that septage on land has long been the accepted method of disposing of it in Maine.

Licenses to spread the PFAS containing sludge and septage go back to the 1970s, before much was known about the dangers around the chemicals.

The two kinds of application sites are identified and investigated separately by the Maine DEP because the materials in them, licenses and land applications are all managed differently, according to Madore.

“We encourage the public to use this map to learn about septage or sludge application that may have occurred in their area,” Madore said. “This map is a work in progress and will continue to be updated as DEP staff sift through several decades of licensing information.”


Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.