UNITY — An organic farm has stopped sales and pulled products from retail stores after tests revealed high levels of “forever chemicals” in the farm’s water, soil and produce, making it the first apparent recorded case in Maine of a produce farm being tainted by the chemicals.
“We struggle to see a path forward for our farmland, our business and for our family,” Adam Nordell, of Songbird Farm in Unity, said during a legislative hearing this week. “Unfortunately, we are not alone. There are going to be more farms and more rural Maine residents affected by this.”
Nordell and his wife Johanna Davis own and operate the farm, and live on the property with their young son.
“We have been pouring everything we have into our farm since 2014,” Davis said.
The two said during the hearing Monday for the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee that they had no idea until recently that sludge had been spread on their land in the 1990s, decades before the couple bought the land.
One of the farm’s customers had heard about contamination by “forever chemicals,” also known as PFAS, and was looking online to see where in the area the sludge had been spread. On the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s website the customer found that sludge had been spread near Songbird Farm and alerted Nordell and Davis.
“This information terrified us,” Nordell said.
PFAS, which stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are a group of synthetic chemicals that repel both oil and water. The chemicals do not break down in the body or the environment, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” Created in the 1940s, they have been used in a wide variety of consumer goods and have been linked to a number of health concerns.
PFAS contamination in Maine has been linked to the spreading of sludge, a wastewater treatment byproduct that was used as an alternative to fertilizer beginning in the 1970s. In the Fairfield area state agencies have found high levels of PFAS on dairy farms, in well water and soil, but also in fish, chicken eggs and even venison — so much so that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife issued a do-not-eat advisory for deer in the area.
Nordell and Davis had the farm’s water, soil and produce tested and found surprisingly high levels of PFAS. The well water had PFAS levels over 400 times higher than the state’s legal limit for drinking water of 20 parts per trillion.
Because the well on the property also provides water to their home, Davis said they had their blood tested after finding out about the contamination, and those tests found levels of PFAS 250 times higher than the average person.
Nordell said that as far as he was aware, they were the first farm and household in the area to realize the water had been contaminated.
The two are now in talks with the DEP and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and both agencies have been by to collect additional samples of the water, soil and produce. They are also now on the list to have a carbon filtration system installed for the water in their house, Davis said.
An email sent to the couple by the Morning Sentinel for additional details was not answered Wednesday.
Davis and Nordell bought the farm in 2014, after growing on leased land for several years. The previous owner also ran an organic farm and retired after a cancer diagnosis to spend more time with his family.
The two spoke about their experience at the hearing to express support of a bill that would close a legislative loophole that allows for ongoing sludge spreading.
“No one can undo the historic contamination of our land,” Nordell said. “But we know enough now to turn off the tap.”