Maine Legislature Passes Bill Prohibiting Land Application of Biosolids, Governor Expected to Sign

Apr 20, 2022

The Maine state legislature passed a bill – L.D. 1911, An Act to Prevent the Further Contamination of the Soils and Waters of the State with So-Called Forever Chemicals – last week that completely prohibits the land application of biosolids and the sale of compost or other agricultural products and materials containing sludge and septage in the state of Maine due to PFAS concerns. The bill now goes to Governor Mills and she is expected to sign it.

NACWA has worked closely in recent months with its Maine utility members, the Maine Water Environment Association (MEWEA), the New England Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA) and others to oppose this legislation. Its passage is concerning on multiple levels, including the precedent it could set for other states looking to pursue similar land application bans.

NACWA’s Board of Directors will be discussing the Association’s strategy next week to prevent the situation in Maine from setting national precedent or serving as motivation for other states to take similar action.

The Maine legislation, without much opportunity for meaningful engagement or negotiation by the clean water utility community in the state, evolved from a requirement to test biosolids for PFAS prior to land application licensing (which could proceed if results fell below Maine’s screening levels of 2.5 ppb and 5.2 ppb for PFOA and PFOS, respectively) to a complete ban on land application regardless of PFAS concentration. Now, Maine is requiring all biosolids to be disposed of in landfills or shipped out of state.

Over the last few weeks, several amendments to the bill were considered. One amendment would have required a $10 per ton surcharge for all biosolids being shipped to landfills – this amendment was ultimately not included in the final legislation.

There was also a push to exclude certain commercial entities seeking to land apply agricultural products or materials derived from food processing, alcohol fermentation or other residuals generated that are not mixed with municipal, commercial, or industrial wastewater sludge – these exclusions were retained. And lastly, an amendment passed unanimously in the final version that allows for the sale, distribution, and use of any crops/vegetables for agricultural purposes only if they were grown on previously licensed sludge/biosolids application sites.  

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is required by the legislation to produce a report on landfill capacity and cost by 2023, well after the ban has already been in place. It is unclear how the state will physically manage the tons of municipal biosolids produced in the immediate future or in the years and decades to come, nor how communities will cover the costs associated with a direct-to-landfill approach.

NACWA strongly advocated that Maine’s ban on land application will not solve the state’s PFAS problem, including in an opinion editorial co-authored by the Sanford Sewerage District in the Bangor Daily News. NACWA argued that Maine’s approach was not based on sound science or thoughtful policy with regard to biosolids management, but the near constant lopsided media attention and pressure from environmental advocacy groups in the state made it difficult to sway the legislature.

NACWA continues to track PFAS efforts related to biosolids in other states and stands ready to help weigh in at the state level if the Association’s members in that state believe it would be helpful.  Please contact Emily Remmel, NACWA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, with questions or to discuss further. 

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