As Worcester Holdings sprays pines with pesticide, Addison residents call for moratorium

As Worcester Holdings sprays pines with pesticide, Addison residents call for moratorium

Along the sea-smoke-covered shores of Great Wass Island Preserve in Beals, the swelter of an unusually hot June day melted away. The preserve’s ever-present maritime winds carried the chill of salt spray over granite ledges, verdant heaths and jack pine woodlands. 

A mere 13 miles away on the mainland, something less pleasant wafted through the air: the toxic pesticide imidacloprid. It is one of several popular neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides designed to mimic nicotine, whose use is banned in the European Union and restricted in 10 U.S. states.

On June 10, the Columbia Falls-based Worcester Holdings — the company behind the scrapped Flagpole of Freedom project — notified nearby Addison residents that the company would use drones to spray imidacloprid over 190 acres of its pine forest this summer.

The pesticide is being used to control balsam gall midge and woolly adelgid in the fir trees that supply balsam branch tips for Worcester Wreath, one of the company’s holdings. 

The news caused a furor on social media, with residents alarmed about the potential threat to wildlife, humans and the environment. 

But the Worcesters aren’t the only ones applying pesticides. The practice is common in forestry and agriculture. 

A recent push to ban aerial pesticide application in the state was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills, but environmental advocates continue to push for more regulations.

“We’ve long been concerned about the impacts of pesticides,” said Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “There are so many studies, peer-reviewed studies — every week more and more information comes out about the impact on human health and the environment.” 

In 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that imidacloprid and other neonicotinoids were “likely to adversely affect” endangered or threatened species, and critical habitats.  

In addition to imidacloprid, many of the more than 11,000 pesticides registered for legal use in Maine have been identified as potentially harmful.

The state sets regulations for their application via the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC), including by requiring training and licensing for applicators. In the commercial category, there are 1,648 registered and certified pesticide applicators working for 573 companies or organizations. Eleven of them hold aerial application licenses.

Despite Worcester Holdings’ track record of violations, the company appears to be following protocol. Worcester Holdings gave proper notice and is duly registered.

Surprisingly, so are five of the state’s leading conservation organizations — including The Nature Conservancy in Maine, stewards of the Great Wass Island Preserve. 

According to a Maine Monitor review of state data, The Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Friends of Acadia, Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, and the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust also have licensed commercial pesticide applicators on staff. 

‘Crushingly disappointing’

Among them, the five conservation groups have 17 pesticide applicators helping to manage a combined 2.6 million-plus acres, mostly along the coast.

None hold aerial application licenses, instead manually applying the chemicals from “pesticide backpacks” as part of what is called an integrated pest management approach. It Involves using pesticides to augment hand-pulling and other natural means of eradicating invasive pests and plants.

Trees that are part of the Worcester Holdings forest.
One particular concern is the effect on local pollinators. Although pine forests are not a honeybee habitat, aphids live among the trees and honeybees are attracted to the excrement aphids leave behind. Photo by Kate Cough.

All of the conservation groups interviewed for this story blistered at the idea of using aerial application, saying their methods are much safer.

A spokesperson for The Nature Conservancy in Maine — a group founded with the help of esteemed biologist Rachel Carson — said it has several licensed applicators on staff who occasionally need to use very targeted herbicide applications to control invasive plants. TNC has conserved roughly 2.4 million acres over 193 preserves.

The other conservation groups that responded to questions from The Monitor had similar responses: They reluctantly use pesticides as part of a comprehensive approach to control invasive plants and vegetation from consuming entire habitats.

“It would be irresponsible if we called ourselves conservation landowners to let invasive plants kind of spread unchecked over the lands we’ve conserved because they greatly diminish ecological value. That’s not something we’re willing to stand by and let happen,” said Amanda Devine, director of stewardship for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which oversees 180,000 acres from Kittery to Calais. 

Devine, as well as Dillon Mulhern, the preserve’s manager for the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, described their groups’ use of pesticides as “surgical.”

But some environmental advocates, like Spalding from MOFGA, say there are better, non-chemical methods to manage even extensive acreage. Spalding called the news that some conservation groups are using glyphosate and other pesticides “crushingly disappointing.”

The question of aerial application

In 2021, the legislature passed L.D. 125, An Act to Prohibit Aerial Spraying of Glyphosate and Other Synthetic Herbicides for the Purpose of Silviculture. Despite broad support, Mills vetoed the bill and lawmakers failed to override the veto. 

The governor subsequently ordered the BPC and Maine Forest Service to review the rules related to aerial pesticide application for the purpose of silviculture, the science of managing woodland. 

The agencies hired a consultant named Harold Thistle, a retired expert in forest meteorology, and paid him $30,000 to conduct a study. An additional $98,436 in federal and other funding was used for water quality monitoring. 

The 175-page report, released in 2022, draws on a number of studies that consider the impact of buffer zones, droplet size, height of pesticide release, weather and wind drift.  

Thistle found that aerial herbicide treatments produced the highest internal rate of return for the forestry industry, and alternative methods would be too costly. 

Many of the concerns about aerial application have to do with the degree to which droplets of pesticide drift through the air, potentially catching a breeze and landing outside the intended area. 

“Though aerial herbicide application as practiced in Maine is very low risk, it is impossible to assert that ‘no drift’ of herbicide occurs,” Thistle concluded in the report. “It is demonstrated that drift amounts at long ranges are minute when present.”

While drones have seen significant usage in pesticide applications in the South, they remain an emerging technology in the Northeast.

Patrick Strauch, the Maine Forest Products Council executive director, and other industry professionals believe drones can help reduce drift because they can fly close to the ground, more precisely spraying targeted invasive plants and insects. 

“The technology may offer precision treatment of browntail moth outbreaks in areas of high sensitivity,” Strauch said in an email.

‘This needs to be stopped’

Though the statewide ban failed, at least seven Maine municipalities have passed ordinances prohibiting or restricting the aerial application of pesticides. A total of 32 municipalities have ordinances that ban or limit pesticide application.

Some Addison residents are calling for town officials to enact such a measure.

“The town selectmen need to do a moratorium on aerial spraying until an ordinance can be passed,” posted one Addison resident, later adding, “We do not want spraying anywhere near our property. This needs to be stopped!!!”

A sign at the entrance to Wreaths Across America.
The pesticide is being used to control balsam gall midge and woolly adelgid in the fir trees that supply balsam branch tips for Worcester Wreath. Photo by Kate Cough.

One particular concern is the effect on local pollinators. Cornell University biologist Thomas Dyer Seeley, who lives in Downeast Maine part of the year and is an expert on honeybees, said although pine forests are not a honeybee habitat, aphids live among the trees and honeybees are attracted to the excrement aphids leave behind.

“Honeybees can go to those aphids and drink what’s called honeydew,” Seeley said. “So even though they’re just spraying in coniferous places… these pesticides could get into honeybees.”

Alex Cammen, a licensed forester and pesticide applicator for Worcester Holdings, said the company is abiding by the laws governing safe pesticide use, and also wants to be good stewards of the land.

“(We) are members of the communities … and care deeply about the health of our neighbors, forests, wildlife, waters and ourselves,” Cammen said. 

There are no legislative or advocacy group efforts to mount a new fight for a statewide aerial pesticide ban, according to Spalding. She said her focus is now on issues such as the clear-cutting of forests. 

Her group has also advocated against an exemption for agricultural pesticides during recent legislative discussions about banning the sale of products containing PFAS. There are at least 55 PFAS-related chemicals present in more than 1,400 pesticides registered for use in Maine, according to Spalding’s testimony.

“When you’re laying down fungicides and herbicides, insecticides, larvicides, you’re really adversely impacting the health of the soil microbiome,” Spalding said. “We need to be moving away from dousing agricultural lands and forest lands with chemicals.”

Officials worry draft packaging rules will penalize rural communities

Pallets of bundled recycled plastic material.
Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in The Maine Monitor’s free environmental newsletter, Climate Monitor, that is delivered to inboxes every Friday morning. Sign up for the free newsletter to stay informed of Maine environmental news.

Regulators were up to their ears in trash talk on Thursday morning as they deliberated over a draft of rules intended to increase recycling, reduce the amount of material going to landfills and ultimately reduce the amount of packaging that’s coming into the state. 

It’s been five years since Gov. Janet Mills signed a resolve directing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to come up with the rules. I remember the first meeting I sat in on where they were explained, on a chilly January afternoon at a community center in Ellsworth.

The room was packed, and then-state Rep. Nicole Grohoski, who had long been championing the concept, was trying to get residents on board.

Ellsworth was a particularly interesting place to be reporting on trash at the start of 2020. The long-awaited waste-to-fuel plant in Hampden, where Ellsworth and more than a hundred other municipalities were planning to take their waste, had finally opened after more than a year of delays (it lasted less than a year before shutting down).

The nearby incinerator in Orrington, where trash was burned to generate electricity, was still operating, but at reduced capacity, having lost many of its contracts when it raised rates and the Hampden plant came on the scene.

Meanwhile, it had been two years since China implemented its National Sword program, which banned many recyclables and put a contamination limit on others, throwing recycling markets in the United States into chaos. 

Before the implementation of the program, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that our plastics recycling rate was roughly 9 percent, in part because we sent a lot of it to China.

After National Sword, according to research from an environmental group affiliated with Bennington College, that figure dropped by half, to around 5 percent. That means 95 percent of the plastics generated that year were put in a landfill or burned for energy. 

Meanwhile, the per capita generation of plastic waste has gone up 263 percent since 1980. 

Hancock County exemplifies many of the challenges of recycling and waste management across the state. It’s both urban — the town of Ellsworth is the service provider for the area and the gateway to Acadia National Park, which saw more than 4 million visitors last year — and decidedly rural. 

It’s also seasonal, with the volume of waste exploding in the summer and dropping off significantly in the winter. The rural nature of the region means transportation costs are higher than they are in more densely populated areas, and the seasonality makes it tough to maintain infrastructure that must handle fluctuating volumes. 

In 2019, The Ellsworth American, where I was a beat reporter at the time, chronicled the situation as town after town cut back on recycling or stopped their recycling programs entirely, citing skyrocketing tipping fees and a lack of end markets. 

“We just don’t get enough material anymore to make it worth it to keep operating,” Joyce Levesque, manager at Coastal Recycling, which served five towns before it closed in 2019, told The American. “Recycling isn’t cheap, so it’s either everybody or nobody doing it.”

The draft rules presented at the meeting of the Board of Environmental Protection on Thursday are intended to get everybody to do it. But some board members were skeptical that they would have the desired effect, at least as currently written.

“It’s not going to incentivize anybody to move their solid waste,” said board chair Susan Lessard, who also serves as town manager in Bucksport.

Under the proposed rules, communities would be reimbursed for both recycling packaging and for diverting it from landfills by choosing options higher up on the solid waste management hierarchy

If a municipality sends packaging material that isn’t readily recyclable to a landfill when an incinerator is closer, they’re not eligible for reimbursement, explained DEP staff on Thursday.

Graphic outlining the proposed reimbursement plan.
A slide from a recent DEP presentation outlining how municipalities would be reimbursed for packaging material under proposed rules.

What if there isn’t an incineration option, wondered board members — say an incinerator is full, and can’t take any more, or it isn’t currently operational, as is the case in Orrington.

Would the municipality be dinged for an option it doesn’t have? Yes, as currently proposed, said Elena Bertocci of the DEP. 

“That is something we thought about a lot and tried to figure out if there was a good way to do something different. In many cases it’s not going there because the municipality doesn’t want to pay for it at the end of the day.”

Bertocci said it also became complicated to try and “put lines around” what not having access to an incinerator looks like.

The rules would also reimburse communities at a higher rate for incinerating over landfilling, which some board members argued meant communities in southern Maine with more options and access would get reimbursed at a higher rate than rural areas. 

Municipalities that choose incineration, for instance, would be reimbursed at two-thirds the average cost of recycling readily recyclable packaging material. Those that send it to landfills (if that’s the closest option) would be reimbursed at a one-third rate.

“Our cost is not the same as someone in southern Maine,” said Lessard. “For those of us with no option close enough… you only get one-third just because there’s nothing closer. But communities within proximity that can do that get two-thirds.”

Reimbursement at the higher rate likely won’t offset the cost of trucking packaging that isn’t easily recycled to places like the ecomaine incinerator in Portland, said Lessard. “Transportation cost alone is the killer.”

The rules are still being drafted, and there’s room for change. They’re intended to incentivize infrastructure development that will make it easier and more financially attractive for rural communities to divert from landfills, DEP staff said Thursday. But that will take time.

“I see this as good, in terms of trying to put the materials in the place they need to be over the long term,” said Steven Pelletier, a board member from Topsham. “But I see this proximity thing as being something that could really kind of shake up this particular industry… what we’re seeing on the ground now — in terms of facilities we can bring things to — in 10 years would be totally different, I would think, because of this.”

Mainers unable to find caregivers for all authorized home care hours

Pauline Kane and Ann Marie Kane pose for a photo.

After qualifying for home care services, Pauline Kane sat on a waitlist for more than a year. In the meantime her daughter, Ann Marie Kane, who goes by her initials A.M.K., had moved in with her and was caring for her around the clock — without getting paid.

Pauline Kane, who is 86, has a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to walk or stand on her own, so A.M.K. helps with everything from making meals to showering. She’s concerned about her mom falling if left on her own in their Scarborough home, so A.M.K. brings her when running errands.

“She doesn’t go anywhere without me,” Pauline Kane said. If she didn’t have her daughter caring for her, Kane said, “I’d have to go into a nursing home. I don’t think I’d like it because there would be nobody around to talk to or for me to go out with.”

When Kane finally got off the waitlist in 2022, she was approved for about 24 to 32 hours through a state-funded waiver called Section 63, for people whose medical needs qualify for additional assistance but who have too much income to qualify for Medicaid. “I honestly don’t even know what (the number of approved hours) is right now because no matter what it is, I will do the same job every day,” A.M.K. said.

Kane now uses the funds to pay A.M.K., and realizes she is lucky to have someone who can work well beyond the number of hours she’s being paid. A.M.K. was hired by a staffing agency in her area to work as her mom’s caregiver full-time.

There are multiple home care waivers that allow Mainers who medically qualify for additional assistance (like care in a nursing home or assisted living) to opt instead to receive that level of care in their homes. But for those who do want care at home, many have been unable to find caregivers to work for all the hours they’ve been approved for.

A recent state report showed that 71 percent of around 1,500 people receiving the Section 63 voucher were not receiving all the personal support services or nursing hours they’d been approved for. 

However, the Department of Health and Human Services said there is no mechanism to know the scale of these deficits — it is unclear whether someone in this group is receiving, for instance, 30 of their 32 hours or a much smaller amount. 

The percentage of people receiving fewer hours than approved for under MaineCare or state-funded programs has increased markedly over the prior year — a problem advocates say underscores workforce shortages and increasing demand.

Gov. Janet Mills’ administration has dedicated significant resources to bolster the healthcare workforce, but advocates worry that attention to the problem is waning.

The number of people who qualify for waiver Section 19, which is for older people and adults with disabilities who qualify for MaineCare (the state’s version of Medicaid) stayed roughly the same but the proportion who are not receiving all of the hours they’ve been authorized increased from 33 percent in November 2022 to 50 percent in December 2023.

For waiver Section 96, which funds private duty nursing and personal care services, the share of people who are “partially staffed” went from 47 percent in November 2022 to 62 percent in December 2023. The number of enrollees was about the same.

Lindsay Hammes, a DHHS spokesperson, said there are a couple of explanations, including the fact that the latest report combines the home care hours that are partially and fully unstaffed, whereas this data was broken into separate categories in previous reports. She added that a nursing agency in 2022 stopped providing nursing services that supported these programs.

“As more people become eligible for the service, providers continue to struggle to hire qualified staff,” Hammes said.

Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, said the problem stems from a strapped labor market and low reimbursement rates for providers. She said DHHS and the Department of Labor have worked to attract people to direct care jobs, including by increasing wages for all essential care workers to 125 percent of minimum wage, or about $17.70 hourly.

“That’s great but it hasn’t helped,” she said. “The reality is that at some point we’re going to have to pay a market-driven rate.”

Maurer said the home care deficit could result in someone who is entitled but not receiving home-based care having an avoidable health crisis and ending up in the hospital, only to sit there for days or weeks instead of being discharged because there’s no home care nor available beds in nursing homes.

Hammes said an ongoing rate study is reviewing similar services across MaineCare sections, including home- and community-based clinical, therapy, care coordination, supportive skills building, and assistive technology services. She said the study is part of the department’s goal to address “severe state labor shortages for nurses,” which has contributed to a decline in people accessing these services.

“This effort may also help to address rate disparities across other relevant positions which are also experiencing labor shortages,” Hammes said.

How it works

To qualify for home care, a client must be assessed to see whether their medical needs qualify for additional assistance. If they do and the person opts for home care, they are connected with a care coordination agency, such as SeniorsPlus.

Betsy Sawyer-Manter, president and CEO of SeniorsPlus, said her agency serves about 3,000 people who have been approved for some level of in-home help. As a coordination agency, the group helps clients get connected with someone to provide care. But they also conduct an assessment to look at what else they might need, and connect them with the appropriate services.

While their numbers can fluctuate daily, Sawyer-Manter said SeniorsPlus has 756 completely unstaffed clients, which is slightly lower than past years. She said the demand for services is high and she expects it to only grow, especially as Maine nursing homes continue to close.

More than 23 nursing homes in Maine have closed in the last decade, with the most recent closure of Narraguagus Bay Health Care Facility reported last month.

“There is a significant amount of demand,” said Tracy Smith, the long-term services and support director for SeniorsPlus. “There are many clients who are living in areas where they don’t have family support, so this is essentially the only way they can get their needs met.”

The rural nature of the state could also be why someone has difficulty finding a caregiver, because fewer home care providers are nearby. Sawyer-Manter added that a lot of immigrants work in the field and clients are sometimes reluctant to have someone who isn’t as fluent in English provide their care. Sawyer-Manter noted that she’s seen this attitude improve recently.

Another part of the problem, Sawyer-Manter said, is the work itself is “not glamorous,” the pay is low and hours aren’t reliable. Home care workers help with bathing, dressing, cooking and transporting clients — tasks that should be valued, she said.

Sawyer-Manter said there’s been progress, including increasing the reimbursement rate to 125 percent of minimum wage and efforts to “destigmatize” the work. 

Undivided attention

Ashlee Reynolds, a certified nursing assistant who provides home care services through Allmed Staffing of New England, said she chose the work because she likes the flexibility and chance to work one-on-one with a client. When she worked in a nursing home, she sometimes had to care for as many as 12 residents in one day. In home care, she can focus all her attention on one person.

She currently works with three clients, dividing her hours with each of them into two- or three-hour shifts each day. Her services range from helping with bathing and dressing, to providing transportation and running errands.

One of Reynolds’ clients has caregivers from two agencies because the original caregiver couldn’t add more hours. 

Nate Charles, the home care manager with Allmed Staffing of New England, said his agency gets referrals for people seeking home care through waivers from care coordination agencies like SeniorsPlus. A mass email will go out to all 160 staffing agencies anytime there’s a new client.

Allmed Staffing provides personal support specialists and nonmedical staff that assist with basic house cleaning, groceries and meal preparation. If a client requires nursing care they would typically have a team of people that includes a registered nurse, he said.

Contrary to data that suggests a workforce shortage, Charles said he’s noticed a lot of demand among staffing agencies to sign new clients.

He said he has to respond within minutes to referrals for new clients or someone else will snap them up. He said this varies greatly based on where the client is located. His agency is based in Augusta and many of his care staff want to work with clients nearby. Someone in Aroostook County may have more difficulty finding a caregiver.

He’s also seen people opt not to use all the hours they’ve been allocated. This may be because they don’t want someone in their home that long or because their health deteriorates and they are approved for more hours, but want to stay with a particular caregiver who is unable to add hours.

What needs to be done

In response to the growing waitlist for Section 63, lawmakers in 2022 allocated about $6 million to get people off the waitlist so they can start receiving care. As a result, recipients such as Pauline Kane were finally able to access the funding.

As of February, there was no one on the waitlist. The number of enrollees in the program nearly doubled but the percentage of people receiving fewer than all their hours also increased from 53 to 71 percent. 

Since then, however, a waitlist was reinstituted April 1 because “current funding cannot support additional participants at this time,” according to Hammes. There are currently 280 people on the waitlist.

Eliminating the waitlist — even temporarily — is still progress, according to Arthur Phillips, the economic policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy. 

“It represents an investment in the program and that is something that we should commend,” he said.

However, Phillips said the available data offers an incomplete snapshot. Unlike previous versions of the report, DHHS did not release information on how many people have no caregiver whatsoever. And for those partially staffed, it’s unclear how many hours they are short.

“This once-annual snapshot is helpful but not nearly sufficient to measure the scale of the problem,” Phillips said.

While he applauded efforts to increase wages, and the governor’s allocation in 2022 of $120 million in recruitment and retention bonuses for home care workers, Phillips said the state has not gone far enough. He is working on a report that will look into the question of what range of wages could sufficiently draw new people into these careers.

He added that the caregiver shortages impact not only those who need the services but also their family members — like A.M.K. — who are left to pick up the slack.

“Care work should be thought of as infrastructure to allow other people to participate in the economy,” he said. “It’s really the backbone. If you don’t have access to the care a loved one needs, you can’t stay in your career.”

Pauline Kane and Ann Marie Kane sit in a parking lot while observing the solar eclipse.
Pauline and A.M.K. enjoy the recent solar eclipse in Maine. Courtesy photo.

A.M.K. said the system has made it “next to impossible” for family caregivers because they aren’t paid like a full-time job with benefits. She has cared for her mom around-the-clock for more than 1,000 days, she said, but hasn’t made nearly what she would in another full-time career. 

To incentivize a system where older Mainers can stay at home longer, A.M.K. argues that family caregivers should be paid directly as state employees, eliminating the costs of assessments, case managers and staffing agencies. 

“People think long-term care is just if you’re an institution,” A.M.K. said. “They separate it: ‘An institution is eligible for this kind of money because they’re an institution, but if you are going to care for a loved one, oh well; we will give you a couple bucks an hour.’ ”

Hammes, the DHHS spokesperson, said the department is also starting a process to implement reimbursement for home health aide services provided by qualified parents to minor children. A state plan amendment will be submitted next month and there will be opportunities for interested parties to inform future rulemaking, she said. 

Maurer said she’s worried attention to the problem is starting to wane. She was disappointed to see a workforce bill fail during the recent legislative session. The measure would have created tuition reimbursement for a direct care worker providing in-home or community support services and could be transferred to family members, which she said would make the jobs more attractive.

Sawyer-Manter echoed her sentiment, saying she hopes there isn’t fatigue around workforce initiatives.

“There are lots of things we could certainly invest in but this is one that isn’t going to go away,” she said. “We need to take care of our older people and people with disabilities. It’s a Maine value that we take care of our people.”

Shenna Bellows talks election security ahead of June primary

Shenna Bellows and Kate Cough during a sit-down conversation.

As Mainers prepare to head to the polls, The Maine Monitor sat down with Secretary of State Shenna Bellows on Friday for a conversation about Maine’s electoral process and the work her office does to ensure that votes are counted accurately and information is stored securely. 

Monitor editor Kate Cough and Bellows discussed Maine’s new online voter registration system, threats to elections workers, the process for verifying signatures, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and more. You can watch the full conversation here: 

The state primary is on June 11, and absentee voting is already underway. 

Maine is now a semi-open primary state, which means voters who are not enrolled in a particular party can vote in the primary of their choice.

Voters who are enrolled in a party may only vote in that party’s primary. The deadline to withdraw or change party enrollment for the June primary is May 24. 

There is no in-person cut off for registering to vote — you can do so at your poll site on June 11 if needed. 

How are Maine counties and municipalities spending their opioid settlement funds?

Bottles of intramuscular naloxone sit on a table.

Needle disposal boxes. Handheld spectrometers. Prevention programs for middle and high schoolers. Behavioral health workers. A 58-bed recovery center.

These are some of the ways that Maine counties, cities and towns have allocated the $8 million in opioid settlement funds distributed to them over the past two years.

The money is coming from settlements that capped years of litigation against prescription drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers accused of fueling the opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of thousands of Mainers over nearly three decades.

Maine expects to receive about $230 million across 18 years from settlements with household names such as CVS Pharmacy and Walmart, and some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the country, like McKesson Corporation, Mallinckrodt, Allergan and more.

Nearly every medicine cabinet across the country likely has a drug made, distributed or sold by one of the settling companies.

A memorandum of understanding between the state, and the counties and municipalities that were part of a massive multidistrict litigation case against Purdue Pharma, divides Maine’s portion of the more than $50 billion being doled out nationally, into three shares: Twenty percent to a state fund overseen by the attorney general’s office; 50 percent to a recovery fund, overseen by the Maine Recovery Council; and 30 percent to a subdivision fund paid out directly to 39 counties, cities and towns.

There is little oversight for how localities — which were party to the Purdue litigation or have a population of at least 10,000 — spend their cut of the money, which will amount to more than $66 million by 2038.

They are supposed to adhere to a list of allowable uses, but neither the memorandum nor settlement agreements require the subdivisions to report expenditures to the public or state.

Without disclosure requirements, Mainers have little way of knowing how their local governments are making spending decisions.

In an attempt to shed light on their choices, The Maine Monitor reached out to officials from each subdivision with a detailed list of questions — ultimately hearing back from everyone but Brunswick, Waterville, and Somerset and Washington counties.

Officials from the 35 counties, cities and towns that responded to The Monitor’s survey described putting the funds toward a wide variety of initiatives, some focused on prevention and awareness, others on treatment and recovery.

One theme was particularly prominent: A third of the subdivisions reported spending money on law enforcement and jail programs, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorder in jails, a priority for advocates. But it also includes hiring behavioral health specialists that work with police, and purchasing handheld drug-checking devices.

Decisions to fund police programs and services technically comply with the MOU, but are at odds with how most advocates say the money should be spent.

A nationwide coalition of more than 130 public health groups, legal aid organizations and providers last year issued a list of priorities for the settlement money.

The coalition, which included Maine Access Points, Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, warned against spending on “law enforcement personnel, overtime or equipment.”

Instead the group recommended spending to expand access to medication-assisted treatment, increase housing access and support community-based organizations doing on-the-ground work.

Drug-checking devices

Saco and Falmouth purchased handheld drug-checking devices for their police departments. Saco bought the TacticID-N Plus and Falmouth got the TruNarc. These instruments, called Raman spectrometers, cost around $25,000 apiece. Saco and Falmouth each used nearly $20,000 of their opioid settlement money to help pay for them.

Experts have questioned the accuracy of the tools.

“Those handheld devices are worse than bad, they are plain dangerous,” Dr. Nabarun Dasgupta, a senior scientist researching street drugs at the University of North Carolina’s school of public health, told The Monitor.

Dasgupta called the TacticID-N Plus and TruNarc devices “garbage.”

They use a technology called Raman spectroscopy — which uses light beams to identify molecular structures — to determine which drugs are present in a sample. Dasgupta said the process works “fine” when dealing with one or two substances.

“But when you get into mixtures of substances, which most street drugs are, they’re not effective, they miss substances and they can give false positives,” he said. “They’re not scientific tools. They’re legal tools for cops to be able to arrest people.”

Saco Police chief Jack Clements and Falmouth Police deputy chief Jeff Pardue told The Monitor their departments purchased the devices because they allow officers to test a substance without taking it out of its container, which is helpful for “officer and victim safety.”

They can quickly and accurately identify substances in an overdose situation; and their results can be used in criminal proceedings.

Both named concerns about officers’ safety as a major consideration. If a drug such as fentanyl becomes airborne or gets on an officer’s skin, it can “overcome” the officer, Clements said.

In 2017, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released a warning about fentanyl exposure. “Any fentanyl exposure can kill innocent law enforcement, first responders and the public,” said Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general at the time.

But such “exposure overdoses” have been debunked by clinicians and medical toxicologists.

“This has never happened,” Dr. Ryan Marino, a toxicologist and emergency medicine physician who researches addiction at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, told NPR last year. “There has never been an overdose through skin contact or accidentally inhaling fentanyl.”

A man holds a sample vial of fentanyl.
Dr. Nabarun Dasgupta, a drug research scientist and co-founder of the Street Drug Analysis Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill, holds a fentanyl sample sent to the lab for analysis. Dasgupta warned against using the handheld drug-checking devices the Saco and Falmouth police departments purchased with opioid settlement money. Photo courtesy Pearson Ridley.

The police officials also said it helps their departments’ community resource liaisons direct people toward appropriate treatment options, though they said that largely happens through the court system.

Dasgupta, who is also the co-founder of Remedy Alliance For The People — a nonprofit that supplies low-cost naloxone to harm reduction programs — said having real-time information on drugs can be helpful, especially for medical providers establishing a treatment plan, but he doesn’t think the Raman spectrometers are appropriate for collecting data.

There are more accurate options available that are already being used in Maine: Project DHARMA, a federally funded harm reduction program, has deployed portable Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometers with organizations statewide to learn more about what’s in the drug supply.

These machines, called the Nicolet Summit PRO, are made by Thermo Fisher, which also makes the TruNarc. Maine Access Points has two machines, and commonspace in Portland and Church of Safe Injection in Lewiston each have one.

At about $20,000 per machine, they are cheaper and more accurate than TruNarc and TacticID-N Plus, advocates say.

“If you’re opting for (the TruNarc or TacticID-N Plus), that tells me that you are using that during traffic stops, you’re using that during raids,” said MAP’s operating director, Whitney Parrish Perry. “And that does not feel like the spirit of the funds to me.”

Police programs

A number of subdivisions use their money to fund behavioral health liaison positions within police departments. Brunswick, Falmouth, Gorham, South Portland, York and Sagadahoc County have spent or allocated nearly $370,000 combined to fund positions. 

The town of York, for instance, allocated more than $92,000 for a contract with York County Community Action Corporation for two community health workers and one caseworker who will “help address challenges with opioids in the community,” said human resources director Kathryn Lagasse.

In a preliminary budget, Gorham town manager Ephrem Paraschak proposed creating a community liaison position within the police department that will be “100 percent funded through opioid settlement funding that is available for the next 10 years.” He requested $77,085 for fiscal year 2024-25.

South Portland spent nearly $62,000 to hire an additional behavioral health liaison for its police department, finance director Ellen Sanborn said, and allocated $106,500 to continue funding the position into the next fiscal year.

Sanford city manager Steve Buck told The Monitor that the city’s plan to use the money to “offset the cost of the police department’s mental health unit” hasn’t changed since last year. Buck’s preliminary budget proposed using $123,300 of the funds toward the mental health unit. The city spent $114,450 in fiscal year 2023-24.

Lewiston, meanwhile, spent $37,000 on a new vehicle for a ridealong program that pairs a mental health counselor with Lewiston and Auburn public safety officers.

Treatment in jails

Administrators from several counties said they expect to spend most of their funds on prevention and treatment programs in jails. 

Androscoggin County, for example, has spent or allocated more than $346,000 on “mandated substance use disorder programs in jail,” deputy county administrator Clarice Proctor said.

Piscataquis County, meanwhile, has put nearly $43,000 toward hiring a medical technician to administer medications that treat substance use disorder, pay for the prescriptions and provide counseling for jail residents, according to county manager Michael L. Williams.

Penobscot County administrator Scott A. Adkins said officials have spent $26,000 on prevention services at the county jail, and allocated another $1.05 million for these programs, but did not provide detail on what the services entail.

Programs at the jail are “currently the only projected use of funds,” he said.

Hancock County contracted Aroostook Mental Health Services to provide services at the county jail for 12 months at a total cost of $36,000, according to administrator Michael Crooker.

Kennebec County is spending its share on medication-assisted treatment at the county jail, which administrator Scott Ferguson called a “$1 million unfunded mandate passed in the legislature.”

Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order in 2019 that directed the Department of Corrections to develop a pilot program to provide medication-assisted treatment to inmates and to “encourage every county jail to have MAT services available for incarcerated Mainers suffering from substance use disorder, and help individuals receive similar services after their release.”

A month later, a federal judge ruled that the Aroostook County Jail had to provide MAT to a Madawaska woman, which was upheld on appeal.

In 2022, Mills signed a bill that required county jails to provide medication for substance use treatment and established a County Jail Operations Fund to help pay for it. The governor’s supplemental budget for 2024-25 includes $4 million for MAT services.

Needle disposal

Bangor will spend an estimated $30,000 per year on a syringe litter pickup service, city manager Debbie Laurie said. This decision was made as the city opposed attempts by a new state-certified syringe service program, Needlepoint Sanctuary, to operate in parts of town.

Of the more than $286,000 Lewiston has distributed or allocated, the city spent just under $2,000 to replace needle disposal boxes. 

Recovery centers and housing assistance

York County commissioners approved spending all of their settlement funds — $4.6 million — to build a 58-bed regional recovery center in Alfred.

Penobscot County distributed $14,500 to Breaking the Cycle, a recovery home for women in Millinocket, for “capital improvement to their facility,” the county administrator said.

Westbrook has spent nearly $64,000 on in- and outpatient treatment, recovery housing, medical services, food insecurity and prevention costs, police captain Steven Goldberg said.

Rendering of the York County recovery center.
A rendering of the 58-bed recovery center York County plans to build in Alfred. Commissioners approved using all $4.6 million of the county’s opioid settlement funds to help pay for its construction. Courtesy: York County.

Lewiston has allocated $11,600 to A Hand Up Recovery & Re-Entry Housing, an organization working to provide housing for people transitioning out of the prison system. 

Cumberland County used $21,230 last spring to fill in a funding gap for Pathways of HOPE, formerly Operation HOPE, between state Department of Safety grant periods.

The project, formerly run by Scarborough Police and now a partnership between the Cumberland County public health department and the Portland Recovery Community Center, works to support people at high risk of overdose and criminal justice involvement by helping them find treatment and housing, according to the county’s public health director, Liz Blackwell-Moore.

Scarborough has put some of its funds toward short-term housing for individuals affected by substance use disorder while they work with a police department social worker to connect to longer-term services, Scarborough Police social services navigator Lauren Dembski-Martin said.

Community support 

Lewiston has allocated $27,400 to nonprofit An Angel’s Wing to establish a community support and receiving center; $23,000 to Recovery Connections of Maine for recovery coaching in St. Mary’s Medical Center’s detoxification unit; $18,000 to Sweetser for training to increase effective treatment options for youth and their families, and $166,400 to Tri-County Mental Health Services to contract counselors for Project Support You. Portland-based Spurwink acquired TCMHS this year.

Franklin County commissioners awarded $10,000 to Kennebec Behavioral Health, which plans to use the money for recovery coaches and gas cards, and $10,000 to Western Maine Community Action for staffing at its recovery center, county administrator Amy Bernard said.

Cumberland County has allocated $80,000 for one to two treatment programs solicited through a request for proposals that closed last month.

Research and awareness 

Cumberland County spent $4,790 to host a day-and-a-half “sequential intercept mapping” workshop in March.

Blackwell-Moore said 75 people working in behavioral health and criminal justice systems in Cumberland County “developed a comprehensive community-wide strategic plan for addressing substance use, particularly among adults involved in the criminal legal system.”

The county was one of the 11 nationwide selected to host a workshop, which was facilitated by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The county is also spending about $90,000 combined this fiscal year and next to partially fund a behavioral public health manager within the public health department to build relationships with, and assess efforts and opportunities for “enhancing coordination among programs and agencies that serve people who use drugs,” Blackwell-Moore said.

Lewiston put $1,000 toward its annual Rally for Recovery, while Waldo County gave $2,000 to Belfast Creative Coalition for an awareness campaign.

Prevention initiatives

Windham has spent $9,000 on substance use prevention programming at its middle and high schools, according to the town manager’s executive assistant, Tammy Hodgman.

Cumberland County has allocated but not yet disbursed $40,000 for a “preventative intervention program for families, youth and adolescents at risk for opioid use disorder, and any co-occurring substance use disorder/mental health conditions,” according to Blackwell-Moore.

The county plans to apply for federal, state and philanthropic grants to pay for the bulk of the program and use the opioid settlement money as a complement.

The story How are Maine counties and municipalities spending their opioid settlement funds? appeared first on The Maine Monitor.

Use of antipsychotics in Maine nursing homes climbs

Sherri Parker, assistant director of nursing at Caribou Rehab and Nursing, recalled a woman who came to her facility and was so sedated by the prescribed antipsychotic medication she had been taking at home that they couldn’t keep her awake for therapy because “she’d fall asleep in front of you.”

Parker, who handles gradual dose reductions at the nursing home, said she worked with a doctor to wean the woman off the medication. By the time the resident transferred back home two months later, “she was a completely different woman,” Parker said — able to eat on her own and be home alone while her husband went to work.

“I’ve seen a stopped antipsychotic medication on many people and sometimes I’m like, ‘Wow, they’ve actually done really well.’ That just goes to show me that it really wasn’t necessary to keep them on that,” Parker said.

But in recent years, she has seen an increase in these medications. At the end of last year, while reading referrals from the hospital for new residents, Parker said nearly every one had a prescription for an antipsychotic medication. She said it’s likely they were prescribed the medication while living at home or when they went to the hospital before ending up at her nursing home.

Statewide data shows the percentage of Maine nursing home residents receiving antipsychotic medication is increasing.

While the rate for short-stay residents, like the one Parker recalled, is relatively low, Maine’s rate for long-stay residents is higher than the national average. Short-stay residents are in a nursing home for less than 100 days, often recovering from surgery or being discharged from a hospital, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In the years after federal regulators cracked down on rates of antipsychotic medication given to long-stay nursing home residents, Maine became a success story, dramatically reducing its rate between 2011 and 2017 from 27 to 17 percent.

But since then, Maine’s rate has crept back to 20 percent, higher than the national average of 14.7 percent and the sixth-highest across all states, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Among all American adults, the rate of antipsychotics was less than 2 percent

Antipsychotics are a type of medication, including Risperdal and Seroquel, designed to manage psychosis and delusions. They’re often given to patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The side effects can be severe, including tremors, heart and circulatory problems, high cholesterol and sedation. They can be particularly problematic for older adults, even potentially shortening the lives of nursing home residents by increasing the risk of drowsiness, confusion and falling, said several experts.

CMS data on nursing home rates of antipsychotics exclude people diagnosed with schizophrenia, Tourrette’s Syndrome and Huntington’s Disease.

“Antipsychotic medications are especially dangerous among the nursing home population because of their potentially devastating side effects, including death, and the use of antipsychotic medications among nursing home residents is an indicator of nursing home quality,” a CMS spokesperson told The Maine Monitor.

Treating an episode, not a behavior

Dr. Susan Wehry, associate clinical professor at the University of New England in Biddeford and a board-certified geriatric psychiatrist, said there are times when antipsychotic medications are necessary to prevent a resident from harming themselves or others, but those occasions are rare.

“I understand an acute need for using a chemical restraint, but call it what it is: This is not treating a behavior; this is treating an episode of agitation that you can’t figure out how to address another way,” Wehry said. “You’re basically sedating the person.”

Wehry said what is often depicted as challenging behaviors from residents with dementia is actually the resident trying to communicate an unmet need. They may not have the language to say what they want, so rather than sedating the resident, it’s important to find out the cause of their frustration, she said.

Parker, with Caribou Rehab and Nursing, said she’s seen residents come off these medications and become more alert, social and talkative. And sometimes there’s no change in behavior, which she said begs the question why the resident needed to be on the medication in the first place.

As of this month, roughly 19 percent of Caribou Rehab and Nursing residents were on antipsychotics, slightly below the statewide average. Parker recalled when their rates were 5 percent and how proud she was, but said the numbers can fluctuate as admissions come in with pre-existing prescriptions.

“I tried really hard with my antipsychotic numbers to be down, and then just slowly they crept up again as we took admissions,” Parker said. “I would love to see my numbers come down and I know those are some things we have to work on.”

Multiple experts and advocates point to a number of explanations for Maine’s rising statewide average, such as staffing shortages and reliance on temporary agency staffing, diminished attention to the problem, MaineCare underfunding for nursing homes, and the all-consuming nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, which demanded more attention on infection control.

Staff who are overwhelmed with duties or haven’t had time to build relationships with residents may turn to medication rather than spending time on de-escalation techniques when residents have challenging behaviors.

“It’s a disappointment to see the rates have increased because I know we can do better,” said Brenda Gallant, Maine’s long-term care ombudsman who advocates for nursing home residents and their families.

Gallant was part of the coalition in 2012 that led the effort to reduce Maine’s rates of antipsychotics, with Wehry and numerous other advocates, providers and organizations.

Multiple people involved in that effort said the success was due to the commitment of a broad coalition that involved statewide trainings, workshops, mentoring programs, grants for innovative programs like Music and Memory, and resources such as a handbook for providers.

The guidance urged providers to take a holistic approach to treating dementia patients, which included education for family members on the risks associated with the medication, staff training programs that identify specific areas of competency and a collaborative transition process with hospitals.

“Initially, we were leaders,” Gallant said, adding that at one point Maine was ranked the seventh-most improved state in 2016, according to federal data cited at the time by the Maine Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes.

Nationally, the rates during that time decreased from about 24 percent in 2011 to 14.3 percent in 2019, while Maine’s crept back up. But this data also can lag slightly: the collection period for the current data on this quality measure was Oct. 1, 2022 to Sept. 20, 2023.

“The tip of the iceberg”

In recent years, some experts have become concerned about an overreliance on medication for older adults, including Dr. Jabbar Fazeli, who has served as medical director for multiple nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Maine. He said antipsychotics could be the “tip of the iceberg,” and that facilities also use mood stabilizers and sleeping pills as a way to sedate residents.

Fazeli served as co-chair of the Maine Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes and has been outspoken about reducing overreliance on medication for older adults. Before the federal government decided to focus on the issue, it was difficult to push back against a “pervasive” culture of using antipsychotic medications, Fazeli said.

Durgin Pines in Kittery, where Fazeli served as medical director for more than a decade until last month, maintained a rate of antipsychotic medication that was always below 5 percent, he said. Currently the facility has a rate of 4.2 percent, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Fazeli said the success was dependent on a joint effort with the director of nursing, assistant director of nursing and the administrator to try all other options before resorting to an antipsychotic medication.

In recent years, lawmakers and the federal government have also become concerned about nursing homes “erroneously” claiming residents had schizophrenia as a way to “mask the facilities’ true rate of antipsychotic medication use,” the agency said in a release last year. CMS conducted onsite surveys to look at schizophrenia diagnoses and conducted audits of how nursing homes coded these residents.

An oversight organization said this does not appear to be a problem in Maine. The nonprofit that provides quality improvement organization services in New England, Healthcentric Advisors, said it has “thoroughly analyzed” Maine data and determined the state is not seeing an increase in schizophrenia diagnoses.

Fazeli added that in his 26 years in geriatric care, Maine is better than most other states, including those he worked in like Missouri, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

An aerial view of the Caribou Rehab and Nursing Center.
Sherri Parker, of Caribou Rehab and Nursing, said she’s seen residents come off antipsychotics and become more alert, social and talkative. Photo by Paul Cyr for Caribou Rehab and Nursing Center.

But after a lot of initial energy in Maine, attention on the issue slowed, especially during the pandemic, Gallant said.

Many said the pandemic was all-consuming for nursing home providers, making it difficult to keep the focus on reducing antipsychotics while keeping up with evolving regulations and caring for residents who were forced to be quarantined.

Wehry, the geriatric psychiatrist, said it was understandable for rates to climb back up in the first months of the pandemic, but “that’s no longer an adequate excuse.” She said a lot of nursing homes reverted back to institution-centric care that forces residents to conform to their environment rather than create an environment that works for them.

“I think it’s broader than just the individual person who’s getting the antipsychotic. I think the culture change, which people worked so hard to introduce, also backslid in the pandemic,” Wehry said.

Ruta Kadonoff, who worked for the national nursing home industry group during the 2012 effort to reduce antipsychotic medication, and traveled across the country providing education on the issue, said Maine’s biggest challenge is workforce shortage.

Staff need adequate training on how to “get inside the world of a person with dementia,” time to work with a resident who is upset or struggling to communicate a need, and support to provide person-centered care that allows them to build relationships with residents. None of that is possible in a facility that is understaffed, has high turnover or relies on temporary agency staffing.

“Until we address that, I don’t think it’s realistic to think we’re going to address other quality issues,” Kadonoff said. “It’s a bandaid to try to address other things without dealing with the underlying fact that we just don’t have the people to provide this care and to do it well.”

Healthcentric Advisors, the quality improvement organization, said it has been meeting with the long-term care ombudsman and the Maine Health Care Association, which represents the state’s nursing homes, about refocusing attention on this issue. They plan to update and reintroduce training modules that condense the most useful tools and resources, which will be rolled out in late fall.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services said it has identified the increasing use of antipsychotics in nursing facilities and encouraged the stakeholder group to reconvene along with nursing facilities administrators and medical directors. In January, DHHS published a stakeholder group report, Improving Quality in Maine’s Nursing and Residential Care Facilities, and noted that “this metric is likely to be among those tied to reimbursement as part of nursing home payment reform,” spokesperson Lindsay Hammes said.

Gallant, the ombudsman, said it’s important to return attention to this problem “if we want to make progress and get back to the place that we had initially in terms of really being leaders. I think that should always be our goal: to do the very best that we can for residents in our nursing homes.”

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Maine to open two public defender offices in rural counties

The state will establish two new public defender offices covering Aroostook, Piscataquis and Penobscot counties, and change the name of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services to the Maine Commission on Public Defense Services. 

Gov. Janet Mills signed the emergency bill, L.D. 653, into law Thursday after it passed unanimously in both houses. The legislation creates positions for 10 new public defenders and 12 other staff members, bringing the total number of public defenders in Maine to 25. 

“This legislation creates new public defender positions across communities in rural Maine and advances my commitment to improving the delivery of legal services to low-income people to ensure their constitutional right to counsel,” Mills said in a statement

The state’s first public defender office opened in Augusta late last year; it covers Kennebec County and will expand to include Somerset County when staffing levels increase. It followed the establishment of a Rural Defender Unit that has five trial attorneys who travel around the state.

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The commission hopes to open four more offices in the next two years. One would cover Hancock and Washington counties; one covering Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties; one covering Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties; and one covering Cumberland and York counties. 

The public defender offices have been designed to handle about 30 percent of adult criminal cases in a given region, employing somewhere between three and eight attorneys with support staff. Their work will be supplemented by private lawyers in a hybrid system. 

Until recently, Maine was the only state with no public defenders, instead appointing private lawyers overseen by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services to represent poor defendants. 

A nine-month investigation by The Maine Monitor and ProPublica published in October 2020 found that the commission repeatedly hired attorneys with criminal backgrounds, including a registered sex offender who was convicted of possessing child pornography, and a lawyer who exposed himself to a client.

The investigation found that the commission did not have enough money or staff to supervise these lawyers, many of whom had been disciplined for professional misconduct.

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The ACLU of Maine sued the state in 2022 on behalf of poor defendants, claiming that the commission was failing to provide them with adequate counsel and thus violating their constitutional rights. 

The case is ongoing, and two attempts by the parties to resolve the matter have been dismissed by a judge. Last month, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy rejected the second proposed settlement agreement, saying it failed to address the constitutional crisis of individuals going without legal representation. 

Maine is facing a critical shortage of defense lawyers who will accept new indigent cases, and there are hundreds of people awaiting court-appointed counsel across the state, many of whom are in jail

“Standards and accountability mean very little when very few attorneys, or no attorneys at all, have been made available by (the commission) for judges and justices to appoint,” Murphy said when she denied the settlement.

She scheduled a trial to begin in late June.

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In a State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers last month, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill said the courts have made progress in shrinking the pandemic-induced backlog of cases, but not enough, pointing to the lack of available lawyers on the commission’s roster. 

“We have people sitting in jail every day — frequently a dozen or more in Aroostook County alone — without an attorney because there is no one to take their cases,” she said. “I hope that adding some public defenders will help, but it will be a while before we really see results. And in the meantime, I fear the system will indeed collapse.”

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A tenth of Maine’s pharmacies have closed in the past decade

A typical day for Doug Edinger begins at 8:30 a.m., when he opens the doors to Seaside Pharmacy in Stonington, on the southern tip of Deer Isle.

The Ohio native moved to the Hancock County town with his family nearly 20 years ago. For the last decade he has owned and operated Seaside Pharmacy as its sole pharmacist, with his wife, Lydia, and daughter, Allison, assisting as pharmacy technicians.

Edinger, 69, regularly puts in 12-hour days, working well past his pharmacy’s retail hours. With the next-closest pharmacy 23 miles away in Blue Hill — a trip that requires crossing the length of Deer Isle and two bridges to get to the mainland — Edinger said he serves most of the island’s year-round population of nearly 900.

In the summer months, when the population swells, he often works even longer days.

“It’s quite a challenge on the old body,” Edinger said, “but we make it, and you know, we’re doing OK.”

As a significant number of Maine pharmacies have shuttered in the past decade, businesses like Seaside Pharmacy have had to carry a larger load.

In 2013, there were 314 pharmacies in the state. A tenth of those have closed.

In rural areas, the decline has been even steeper, with some counties losing more than a fifth of their pharmacies in the past decade.

Growing gaps in pharmacy access

There are currently 283 pharmacies in the state, according to the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Of those, just 20 percent are independently owned, like Edinger’s; 79 percent are owned by chains such as CVS, Walgreens or Hannaford. The rest are specialty retail pharmacies, such as those serving long-term care facilities or veterinary pharmacies.

A Maine Monitor analysis of pharmacy licensing data found that since 2013 the number of pharmacies has decreased in 11 of the state’s 16 counties.

The greatest declines were in Washington and Somerset counties, where the total number dropped by 31 and 22 percent, respectively. Per capita, Waldo, Somerset, Oxford, Sagadahoc and York counties have the fewest pharmacies — ranging from 1.3 to 1.6 per 10,000 people.

Two maps of Maine pharmacy locations, side by side. On the left are the locations of pharmacies in Maine in 2013. The locations in 2024 are on the right.
A comparison of Maine pharmacy locations in 2013 and 2024. A 2022 study in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association found that in large urban areas nationwide, 63 percent of pharmacies were chains, whereas in rural areas, 77 percent were franchises or independent pharmacies. Chains are indicated in red. View the interactive maps: 2013 and 2024.
Source data from the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, Maine Board of Pharmacy. Maps and analysis by Emily Bader

A 2021 analysis by researchers at GoodRx found that in every Maine county except Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc, at least a third of residents live more than a 15-minute drive from the closest pharmacy.

Access was the worst in Washington County, where 84 percent of the county’s 31,000 residents lived more than 15 minutes from the nearest pharmacy.

The Monitor’s analysis found the number of pharmacies in Washington County has decreased from 13 to 9 in the past decade. Two of the remaining locations are within tribal health clinics, and the rest are in Calais, Machias, Milbridge and Eastport.

Today there are 28 fewer independent pharmacies statewide than in 2013, the Monitor found.

Most counties saw a significant drop in independents over the past decade. In York County, for example, the total dropped from seven independent pharmacies to just one.

Feeling the squeeze

Lee Ohmart, a retired Brewer pharmacist, got his start working for his father, who owned three independent pharmacies, Ohmart and Hinckley Pharmacies, in the Bangor area. One night, Ohmart recounted, while “struggling to pay bills, my father looked at me and said, ‘You better really like owning a business. With the way chains and the insurance companies are squeezing us, you will work more hours than your chief pharmacist and you will end up being paid less.’”

Independent pharmacies are getting squeezed by pharmacy benefit managers, middlemen that negotiate pharmacies’ reimbursement rates with insurance companies and manufacturers, said Emily Dornblaser, an associate professor at the University of New England School of Pharmacy, in an interview with The Maine Monitor last fall.

Some pharmacy benefit managers are owned by insurance companies that also own the retail pharmacies. For example, the health insurance company Aetna, pharmacy benefit manager CVS Caremark and CVS Pharmacy are all subsidiaries of CVS Health Corporation. Aetna will often give customers preferential drug pricing at CVS pharmacies, or only cover prescriptions filled at a CVS.

The system leaves independent pharmacies without access to drug discounts the big chains get and with worse reimbursement rates, Dornblaser said.

“That has really been one of the reasons that independent pharmacies have been gutted, because they cannot actively compete with such large, organized health-care system entities that span insurance to distribution,” she said.

But the large chains have had their own problems, and have closed a number of stores across the state in recent years.

Rite Aid, which filed for bankruptcy last fall, closed three Maine locations in 2018 and sold the remaining 76 to Walgreens. Since then, Walgreens has closed 21 stores, including some still operating under the Rite Aid name.

Just last week, Walgreens shut down a store on Main Street in Lewiston. CVS closed two stores in 2020. Both chains announced hundreds of closures nationwide last year.

“The mantra was like: a pharmacy on every corner. And you used to see corners where there was a Walgreens and the Rite Aid or CVS like directly across from each other. And now that’s definitely not the case,” Dornblaser said. “I think the companies are recognizing that there’s not a lot of volume at those stores, and the cost to staff them is not worth it and that’s why they’re closing.” 

A sign listing the pharmacy's operating hours.
A sign inside the Walgreens at 713 Congress St. in Portland displays the pharmacy’s new hours. Respondents to a Maine Monitor survey reported many frustrations with chain pharmacies, including reduced hours, long wait times and automated messages that incorrectly told them prescriptions were ready when they weren’t. Photo by Stephanie McFeeters.

Many chain locations across Maine appear to have had staffing trouble.

One Washington County resident said they drive 24 miles one way from their home in Addison to the Walgreens in Machias to pick up prescriptions, and often find that even when submitting refill requests days in advance, one or more of their prescriptions aren’t ready when they arrive.

“What ends up happening is after I’ve started to go home, halfway home I get a notification on my phone that the other prescription is ready and I can’t turn around and go back,” the resident said in response to a Maine Monitor survey conducted last week.

“They don’t have enough people to cover the pharmacy. I waited one day for a half an hour, and I never got waited on and so I walked out.”

Maine law says a pharmacy must have a pharmacist in charge working and must be open at least 40 hours a week, or it must notify the Maine Board of Pharmacy, which licenses and regulates pharmacies, pharmacists and technicians.

In 2022, Walgreens — the state’s largest pharmacy chain — paid more than $68,000 in fines after the Board of Pharmacy found that 10 locations, including the one in Machias, failed to have a pharmacist in charge or reduced its hours without notice.

“We continue to meet, and in most locations exceed, the Maine Board of Pharmacy’s requirement for retail pharmacies to be open 40 hours per week,” a Walgreens spokesperson said in an email, noting there is “a shortage of pharmacists across the country, which has led to some adjusted pharmacy operating hours or temporary closures, including those in Maine.”

As the Monitor reported in the fall, this nationwide shortage of pharmacists has led to sudden closures and irregular hours at chain locations across the state.

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In the mid-2000s, a wave of new pharmacy schools opened to meet the shortage of pharmacists. But then the 2008 recession hit, and as more people were entering the profession, fewer were retiring, Dornblaser said. By the late 2010s, jobs had become more competitive and wages had stagnated or dropped, leading pharmacy school enrollment to drop. 

Then came the pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, which added a new dimension to pharmacists’ jobs. Last fall pharmacy staff at some CVS and Walgreens locations across the country walked off the job to protest what organizers said were untenable working conditions.

Independent pharmacies a beacon in rural communities

When Audrey Parks opened Western Maine Pharmacy in Kingfield in 2011, she said there hadn’t been another pharmacy in the town for at least 50 years.

According to licensing records, Mt. Abram Regional Health Center is the only other pharmacy Kingfield has had. But newspaper clippings reveal the pharmacy did not fill its own prescriptions and instead outsourced that work to now-shuttered pharmacies in Farmington and Madison. The health center withdrew the pharmacy license in 2011.

Parks’ pharmacy serves a huge swath of northwestern Franklin County that runs west past Rangeley to the New Hampshire border, and north on Route 27, past Carrabassett Valley and Eustis all the way to the Canadian border.

Betty Ann Listowich, who lives in Freeman Township in Franklin County, said before Western Maine Pharmacy opened, she had to travel 20 miles to Farmington to get her medications. Now her drive is only four miles.

“They know who we are and are extremely helpful,” she said.

the exterior of the western maine pharmacy as seen from the parking lot
Western Maine Pharmacy, in Kingfield, opened in 2011. Owner and pharmacist, Audrey Parks, said there hadn’t been another pharmacy in the town for at least 50 years. Photo by Audrey Parks.

A 2022 study in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association found that in large urban areas nationwide, 63 percent of pharmacies were chains; in rural areas, 77 percent were franchises or independent pharmacies. 

Among the 79 people who responded to The Maine Monitor’s survey last week, many said they have had only positive experiences at local independent pharmacies, including Carroll Drug Store in Southwest Harbor, Harris Drug Store in Greenville, Wilson’s Drug Store in Bath, Belfast Drug Company in Belfast, and Mt. Blue Drug in Farmington.

Several also praised the locally owned chain Community Pharmacies, which has locations in Bucksport, Corinth, Cornish, Gorham, Hermon, Randolph, Saco and Waldoboro. 

A Camden resident who uses Jensen’s Pharmacy in Rockland said they prefer independent pharmacies “because of their ability to hear you.”

“There’s nothing we can do”

Those who rely on CVS and Walgreens reported a number of frustrations, including long waits, reduced hours — many are not open on weekends — and automated messages that told them prescriptions were ready when they weren’t.

Asked if they ever had trouble filling a prescription, a South Bristol resident said, “Yes. If it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday.” 

They noted there are only two pharmacies in Damariscotta — a Walgreens and a Hannaford — and said one is closed on weekends and can take four to five days to fill prescriptions, while the other often has a line out the door. 

“Very hard for a single person to get prescriptions when sick,” they said.

Another respondent, from Islesboro, said, “Just Saturday I went to pick up a prescription and discovered that the pharmacy is now closed on Saturdays.”

In an email, a CVS Pharmacy spokesperson said, “We strive to ensure we have appropriate levels of staffing and resources in place at each of our pharmacies through a combination of staffing, labor hours, workflow process and technology.”

Several respondents mentioned they get some prescriptions by mail, but that’s not possible for drugs that need to be refrigerated.

One woman, whom the Monitor is identifying by her first name, Betsy, to protect her privacy, said she noticed her usual pharmacy, the Hannaford in Gardiner, falling more and more behind over the past 18 months.

It came to a head in December when she went to pick up her daughter’s prescription for mood stabilizers to treat bipolar disorder.

Betsy said she made the 21-mile drive from her home in Richmond, in Sagadahoc County, to Gardiner to pick up the prescription, as she has done for years. When she got to the pharmacy, she was told she could wait 40 minutes or come back the next day.

When she returned the next day she was told the same thing: wait 40 minutes or come back tomorrow. This continued for days. On the fifth day, she said she was getting agitated because her daughter had run out of medication.

“Now I’m getting angry,” she said. “But they’re just like, ‘You know, there’s nothing we can do.’ ”

She made the trip seven times in 10 days. After her daughter went two days without medication, Betsy borrowed a few days’ worth of pills from her son, who also has bipolar disorder and takes the same medication. It was Christmastime, stress levels were high and her daughter was going through withdrawal. Had her son not been able to help, Betsy said the situation would have been dire.

“I would have stood in the middle of the pharmacy and started screaming,” she said. “Honestly, I think I would have lost it.”

A Hannaford Supermarkets spokesperson said the company apologizes for any inconvenience customers may have faced. “When a prescribed medication is unavailable, we may require more time to fill a prescription while we work with the provider to identify a comparable alternative,” she said.

Despite the frustrations, several respondents said the pharmacists seem to be doing the best they can given staff shortages, and noted that having to provide vaccinations alongside filling prescriptions is a lot to manage. 

“The staff is doing their best but they are constantly overwhelmed,” said a Bath resident.

Edinger, the Stonington pharmacist, said even with the long days, he loves what he does.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t,” he said. “It’s nice to be working with your family. And the customers are more like our neighbors and friends than they are customers.”

Edinger ended up in Stonington in the early 2000s because a local pharmacy had closed.

“It was a real hardship to the community. That’s how I got called to the island. One of the local businesses wanted to bring a pharmacy onboard inside their business and they asked me to come and start it for him. So that’s how I got here,” he said.

Asked what would happen if Seaside Pharmacy closed, Edinger said that’s not a possibility.

“The island needs a pharmacy,” he said. “There’s no option to close.”

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California’s “Lithium Valley” may power millions of electric vehicles. Does Maine still need a lithium mine?

It would be hard to find two landscapes in the continental United States more different than the flat, arid desert of California’s Imperial Valley and the forested, stream-laced mountains of western Maine.

In late winter, while Maine’s ground is blanketed in snow, a patchwork quilt of irrigated fields covered with salad crops and hay stretch to the horizon in the Imperial Valley and to the Salton Sea, a 35-mile long, landlocked lake near the Mexican border.

But beneath the surface, western Maine and the Imperial Valley share something in common — nationally significant deposits of lithium.

It’s a strategic metal considered essential for batteries that power electric vehicles and the storage systems needed to support a global, renewable energy revolution.

News reports have highlighted the Maine discovery said to be one of the world’s largest deposits of lithium, locked in rock crystals on the side of Plumbago Mountain in Newry.

Meanwhile, lithium found thousands of feet underground in the superheated, salty water called geothermal brines is making global headlines.

There’s enough lithium contained in the brines around the Salton Sea for 375 million batteries for electric vehicles, according to a recent federal analysis. It’s enough to help the U.S. meet global demand for decades, the analysis says. 

Only 2% of the world’s lithium supply now comes from the United States. Most comes from Chile, Argentina, Australia and China, with much of the processing taking place in China. So there’s a huge effort to ramp up domestic production for national security and economic reasons. 

As America scrambles to develop a resource sometimes called the “new oil” or “white gold,” contrasts are emerging between what’s happening in western Maine and southern California. In a nutshell, Maine is moving cautiously to consider a single mine while California is well on the way to hosting a multi-billion dollar industry.

Maine has not been friendly to mining. The state’s metal mining laws, revised in 2017, are among the strictest in the country. No modern mines have been developed in decades, and no company has applied for a metallic mining permit from the Department of Environmental Protection since the law was passed. 

Wolfden Resources Corp., a Canadian company aiming to mine for zinc and copper near Pickett Mountain, was recently turned down by the Maine Land Use Planning Commission in its request for a rezoning, the first step before the company could apply for a mining permit. That is the closest any company has come to testing the state’s regulations.

But Maine may be more receptive to a lithium mine. On Wednesday, the citizen board that oversees the Maine DEP voted unanimously to adopt changes to the mining law that would exempt some metals from the state’s strict metallic mining regulations, provided developers can prove they won’t pollute nearby watersheds or cause other environmental harms.

Chemical processing would still be regulated under the metallic mineral mining law. The changes are expected to go back to the legislature for approval in the coming weeks.

While Maine cautiously considers a way to permit a lithium mine, pilot projects aimed at extracting lithium on a large scale are well underway by California’s Salton Sea.

Global investors and major automakers are spending billions on what they say will be the world’s cleanest, major source of lithium extraction. Some boosters have dubbed the area, “Lithium Valley.”

An orange star marks the approximate location near the Salton Sea being discussed.
The orange star marks the approximate location of the area dubbed Lithium Valley, where global investors and major automakers are spending billions on what they say will be the world’s cleanest, major source of lithium extraction.

What’s happening in California could ultimately impact the future of lithium mining in Maine and other places by raising a critical question: If new, lower-impact technology can tease out global supplies of lithium from geothermal brine, is it better to leave rockbound deposits in the ground?

This question came to the fore because of activity at geothermal power plants at the southern edge of the Salton Sea. For more than 40 years, geothermal plants near the lake have pumped the 500-degree brine, using the steam to spin turbines and injecting what’s left back underground.

Today there are 11 power plants with a total generating capacity of 400 megawatts, enough to power 300,000 California homes, with more plants planned. 

But until recently, the millions of tons of dissolved lithium in the brine were pumped back into the earth, unused.

Now three operators are at various stages of extracting lithium from the salty water using technology known as Direct Lithium Extraction, or DLE, which they say could bring their pilot projects to commercial scale.

If they succeed and the methods are financially viable, proponents say the process could capture lithium with lower environmental impacts than hardrock mining, while generating clean, renewable energy. 

White smoke rises from a production well.
As part of the first phase of the proposed Hell’s Kitchen campus, Controlled Thermal Resources has drilled two geothermal production wells and is optimizing its process for recovering lithium from the hot brine. Source: Controlled Thermal Resources.

The projects, however, are not without controversy, in part because large volumes of water are used in extraction processes. An investigation by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, reported in February in USA Today, reviewed 72 proposed mine sites and found most would take billions of gallons of water from already stressed resources such as the Colorado River. That’s the largest source for Salton Sea projects.

There’s also pushback from residents in the impoverished Imperial Valley, who already struggle with elevated health problems. In January, the nonprofit Comite Civico del Valle announced its intent to sue to overturn permits for a proposed lithium production campus, citing concerns over water use and air pollution from construction and operations. 

Meanwhile, developers and investors are in a race toward commercial viability. Three major players are taking the lead.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables: This Warren Buffett-led company’s subsidiary runs 10 geothermal plants. It has worked since 2022 on a process to recover lithium at a demonstration plant and produce battery-grade lithium carbonate.

EnergySource Minerals: This company is developing Project ATLiS at the 55-megawatt John L. Featherstone power plant. It’s using a patented extraction process and is aiming to be in full operation in 2025. Last year it signed a supply contract with Ford Motor Co.

Controlled Thermal Resources: This company held a groundbreaking ceremony in January to launch its $1.8 billion Lithium Valley campus, billed as the world’s first fully integrated facility to extract and process lithium, possibly with on-site battery manufacturing and recycling plants.

Aerial image of the Featherstone power plant.
EnergySource Minerals is developing a lithium extraction process using geothermal brine at the 55-megawatt John L. Featherstone power plant, near the Salton Sea in southern California. It’s aiming for full operation in 2025, and has a supply contract with Ford Motor Co. Photo courtesy Daniel Alexander, Cyrq Energy.

The project is called Hell’s Kitchen and the company says fully realized, it could represent a $28 billion capital investment and support nearly 8,000 jobs. The company has entered into investment and supply agreements with General Motors, and has received $100 million from Stellantis, the parent company of Jeep and Chrysler, to advance development.

In late January, Biden administration officials were among those at a groundbreaking for the first phase of the planned Lithium Valley production campus.

“This administration supports the vision of Lithium Valley,” said John Podesta, Biden’s climate czar, during remarks at the event, “and it’s not just winning the (lithium) race, it’s about providing good-paying jobs.”

A game-changing technology

Direct Lithium Extraction isn’t a new process. But the latest techniques to filter lithium from the salty, mineral rich brine and create a sustainable industry in tandem with geothermal power plants, is a game-changer, according to Michael McKibben, a research professor at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at University of California, Riverside. 

“We should never mine lithium from hard rock again,” he said.

McKibben, who contributed to the federal analysis, said the key issue is the economics of bringing the extraction processes at the Salton Sea to commercial scale.

“I think ultimately, if DLE can be scaled up successfully in many places, it will put hard rock mining out of business. It may take a decade, but I think the writing is on the wall.”

A flowchart demonstrates the geothermal power and lithium extraction process. After the sale of renewable energy, step one is to produce clean power and stream. Very hot brine is produced from deep below the earth's surface. Step two is to recover lithium from the brine. Brine is injected back into the geothermal reservoir. Step three is to produce lithium carbonate or hydroxide. Battery manufacturing by others yields electric vehicle batteries and production.
This flowchart shows how lithium can be extracted from hot underground brine, already used by geothermal power plants near the Salton Sea in California. After use, the brine is injected back underground, and the lithium can be used to produce batteries. Graphic courtesy Controlled Thermal Resources.

Not everyone agrees that the Salton Sea projects represent a disruptive technology.

“Do I think what’s going on at the Salton Sea will replace any or all lithium mining in this country?” said Corby Anderson, a professor and associate director at the Colorado School of Mines. “No, I don’t. It’s not a panacea. It’s an opportunity.”

Anderson said supporters downplay the technical challenges and costs of recovering lithium from a thick brine loaded with compounds and minerals. And he said public opposition to mining often is based on perceptions that linger from polluting practices no longer used. 

“Modern mining,” Anderson said, “it’s not like all the dirty pictures of the past.”

Is Maine’s lithium still worth mining?

Mining is cleaner than it used to be. But with so much potential and investment already taking place at the Salton Sea, is mining in Maine needed for the U.S. to develop sustainable supplies of lithium?

Yes, said Mary Freeman, the co-developer of the Plumbago North project.

“If mining can be handled in an environmentally responsible manner,” she told The Maine Monitor, “what is the value of excluding Maine from participating in a viable sector of the economy?” 

Freeman and her husband, Gary, are gemstone miners who split their time between Maine and Florida. They want to expand the pit they developed near Newry to mine lithium-bearing spodumene minerals from a deposit some experts estimated could be worth $1.5 billion.

They plan to ship it out of state for processing, which would avoid the waste products that could threaten Maine water supplies.

Mary and Gary Freeman pose for a photo in their test pit.
Mary and Gary Freeman stand in their test pit in the woods of Newry, surrounded by spodumene crystals. Photo by Garrick Hoffman.

Freeman said their project is on hold, awaiting legislative acceptance of the proposed amendments to Maine’s mining regulations.

But she said development of additional domestic resources such as the Salton Sea doesn’t diminish the value of mining the spodumene at Plumbago North, which contains large crystals with both high lithium oxide and low iron content. These materials can be used for products such as scientific glass, used in computer and cell phone screens.

This sentiment reflects the notion that market competition will lead the U.S. to develop a range of domestic lithium sources. That’s likely, according to Patrick Dobson, a lead geological scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and chief author of the federal analysis done for the U.S. Department of Energy that characterized the geothermal resource and lithium potential at the Salton Sea. 

Dobson is aware of the Plumbago deposit and monitors efforts to extract lithium and other critical minerals from geothermal, hard rock and clay deposits. They include:

Silver Peak, Nevada: Albemarle Corp. has produced lithium from brine deposits for decades at what is, for the moment, the country’s only active lithium mine. Lithium is concentrated through evaporation in a series of ponds. The company plans to double production, even as opponents say it’s depleting the area’s aquifer.

Clayton Valley, Nevada: Canadian-based Century Lithium Corp. is working to advance a lithium brine project near the Silver Peak site. The Clayton Valley project is conducting pilot plant operations and has a processing operation elsewhere in Nevada.

Thacker Pass, Nevada: This mine, on the Oregon border, is at one of the country’s largest lithium deposits. Native tribes and environmental groups fought it but pre-construction has begun. General Motors is investing $650 million for rights to the lithium supply and now is the largest shareholder. It previously was owned largely by Ganfeng Lithium Group of China.

Lithium potential isn’t limited to the arid west. Piedmont Lithium is seeking to develop a project in North Carolina, in a forested area west of Charlotte that is more like Maine. The company describes the area as the “Carolina Tin Spodumene Belt.”

The company has asked state regulators for more time to conduct feasibility studies. The proposed open-pit mine faces opposition from Gaston County residents concerned with water pollution, groundwater levels and other concerns.

These and other projects illustrate the soaring demand for battery storage and political pressure to develop domestic supplies. But Dobson said it remains to be seen which ones come to fruition.

Whether Maine stays in the mix may be decided in the weeks ahead.

“Which lithium projects turn into actual commercial developments,” he said, “will depend on a variety of factors, such as local acceptance, environmental approvals and the commercial viability of each project.”

An explanation of how lithium is extracted. The amount of water needed to obtain lithium carbonate for use in batteries depends on the method used to concentrate and extract the material, which is now commonly obtained by hard rock mining or brine evaporation. In hard rock mining, spodumene ore is physically extracted, heated, pulverized, mixed with acid, reheated, refiltered and concentrated to lithium carbonate. It is an expensive and energy-intensive process. Lithium mining from spodumene occurs internationally, but currently not in the U.S. For evaporative processes, lithium-rich, highly saline brines are pumped from wells up to 200 feet deep. The liquid is passed through a series of ponds for months to concentrate the lithium as the brine evaporates. Once the brine has been concentrated, it typically goes through a filtration step to remove impurities, a precipitation step to isolate the lithium, and a carbonation step to produce lithium carbonate. Brine mining is a slow, land-intensive process. The Silver Lake mine in Nevada is the only operation in the U.S.
This is an edited summary of how lithium is extracted and processed, as detailed in the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab report to the Department of Energy.

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The story California’s “Lithium Valley” may power millions of electric vehicles. Does Maine still need a lithium mine? appeared first on The Maine Monitor.

Hundreds of thousands of US infants every year pay the consequences of prenatal exposure to drugs, a growing crisis particularly in rural America