At a Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) questioned U.S.
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Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack about his department’s efforts to protect dairy farmers and water supply systems against harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals.  She also asked Secretary Vilsack about what is being done to support those farmers whose operations have been harmed by PFAS contamination.

“Over the past several years, we have seen family farms in Maine affected by PFAS. In 2016, a dairy farmer in Arundel, Maine, discovered that the milk produced on his farm contains some of the highest levels ever reported for a PFAS contaminant,” said Senator Collins. “In 2020, a dairy farm in Fairfield, Maine, a whole different section of the state, found PFAS levels in its milk were 153 times higher than the Maine standard for determining whether it was fit for sale.”

“The USDA provides some support to farmers, who have been directed to remove their milk from the commercial market through the Dairy Indemnity Payment Program, but what the farmers tell me is that this is not sufficient to keep them in production, to keep them in business,” continued Senator Collins. “So I would ask that you take a look at this issue. As I said, I know that PFAS is high on your priority list. This too, is creating real hardship for our dairy farmers in Maine and for some of our water supply as well.”

Secretary Vilsack assured Senator Collins that PFAS contamination is a high priority for USDA.

“I think the challenge for us is that in the past, we have been basically providing indemnity for the milk that was impacted. I think what we are looking at now is basically indemnifying the farmers for the cows themselves. And I think that’s going to provide more relief and the kind of relief that your dairy producers are probably looking for, and we are working on that. We are going to get that done relatively soon,” he said.


PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals—sometimes referred to “forever chemicals”—that can bioaccumulate in bodies over time.  They are traditionally found in food packaging, nonstick pans, clothing, furniture, and firefighting foam and have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, decreased fertility, and hormone disruption.

Senator Collins has led efforts to assist Maine communities that are struggling with the impacts of PFAS.  In May, Senator Collins and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Council on PFAS, highlighting Maine’s extensive and unfortunate history with PFAS issues and urging the Council to work with the State of Maine on remediation.  Also in April, the Senate passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 with an amendment co-sponsored by Senators Collins and Angus King (I-ME) to allow states to assist more households impacted by unregulated contaminants like PFAS.  Additionally, Senators Collins and King joined a group of colleagues in calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set standards on PFAS found in bottled water, to ensure bottled water products are safe for drinking.

Last month, 14 of our dairy farms in Maine, as well as dozens of dairy farms across northern New England, got an unexpected and disappointing notice from Danone of North America saying that they were discontinuing their contracts with our organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere.

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