Senator Collins Continues to Press USDA for PFAS Research to Assist Farmers
Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, once again raised the issue of PFAS with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, encouraging him to continue to focus on additional research to assist farmers who have been harmed by these forever chemicals. Secretary Vilsack was testifying at an Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget request for the USDA.
PFAS are a class of man-made 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. These chemicals are increasingly being found in soil, water, animal feed, crops, and livestock, causing substantial harm to the livelihoods of Maine’s family farmers and threatening water and food supplies.
Senator Collins has helped lead Congress’ work on a bipartisan basis to address PFAS contaminants and conduct environmental remediation when needed. In the FY23 funding law, she secured $8 million for the University of Maine’s PFAS Research Center. Additionally, last month, she introduced the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act, which would authorize grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate. Senator Collins has repeatedly raised this issue with Secretary Vilsack.
The USDA’s FY24 budget requests $20 million for PFAS programs. At today’s hearing, Senator Collins asked Secretary Vilsack to describe how the Department planned to use this funding.
I also want to point out that we've had very good discussions on PFAS—I know this is of great interest to the Chairman as well—that class of forever chemicals that are being found in our soil, our water, our animal feed, our crops, and our livestock. In Maine, the presence of PFAS and wastewater sludge spread decades ago as fertilizer is preventing some of our family farmers from being able to sell their products, causing them significant financial harm, as we have discussed. While Maine state agencies, agricultural service providers, and academic researchers are already undertaking research relevant to the presence of PFAS in the agricultural landscape, far more research is needed. I noticed in the budget that this year your department is requesting $20 million for PFAS related activities. How do you propose to use these funds? And more broadly, what role do you see for the Department in supporting research relevant to the PFAS challenge?
We need to have a better understanding, Senator, of the full extent of this challenge that we face and a better understanding of the impact of PFAS when it is found in soil, when it is found in anything that impacts and affects our food supply. So first and foremost, we need to have better research to know precisely the extent of what the challenge we're faced with. Secondly, we need resources to be able to begin raising awareness on the part of producers. Now, your producers in Maine and those in New Mexico are fully aware of this, but I'm not sure that all of the producers around the country are aware of it. So NRCS, I think, has a responsibility to raise awareness, to fill the knowledge gaps and to begin figuring out soil health practices that can make a difference, potentially, in remediation. We also need to take a look, creatively, at programs like CRP and CREP to determine whether or not they can be a response to whatever we need to do to remediate the soil. We need more research in terms of its impact on animals and crops. And we also need to make sure that our food safety folks are fully embracing and understanding of the need to test, to make sure that as we are inspecting meat, poultry, and processed eggs that we know the impact, if any, of PFAS. So, there's a lot of work to do. $20 million is probably not enough, but it is a start, and it's certainly more than the $5 million we got last year.
As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins is pressing forward with Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) to hold subcommittee hearings on the President’s budget. These hearings provide an important opportunity to assess our country’s needs for the coming year and will help guide Senators Collins and Murray’s efforts to write the annual government funding bills.
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