EPA Forever Chemicals

A water researcher tests a sample of water for PFAS, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response in Cincinnati. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose restrictions on harmful "forever chemicals" in drinking water after finding they are dangerous in amounts so small as to be undetectable, but experts say removing them will cost billions.

(The Center Square) – Against the backdrop of a growing body of evidence of harmful effects, Maine lawmakers are considering a number of bills this legislative session that could ban or significantly reduce the presence of PFAS in the state’s water supply.

On Friday, the Maine Committee on Health and Human Services took testimony on several PFAS-related bills that could place greater regulations on bottling companies and water filtration facilities.

PFAS, an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Studies vary on their harmful effects; more is known about their impact on animals than on humans. PFAS, the Environmental Protection Agency says, “are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation” and throughout the world.

State Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, went before the committee with two PFAS-related bills: Legislative Document 73, which would require bottling companies to monitor traces of the chemical in supplies.

Bennett also is the sponsor of LD75, a proposal taking PFAS contaminant levels all the way down to zero nanograms per liter. The Maine Legislature set an interim drinking water standard of 20 nanograms per liter two years ago.

“No matter the water source, it should be treated with the same safety and security,” Bennett said of his intent behind the bills. “I think disclosure is critical.”

The committee took testimony from several residents, lobbying groups, and grassroots organizers. Most spoke favorably of the heightened restrictions and the measures of doing so through the bills.

Sarah Woodbury, director of advocacy with Defend Our Health, said she favors the bills because they increase transparency.

“The people of Maine deserve to know what is in their drinking water,” Woodbury said.

Jacquelyn Elliott, a board member with the nonprofit environmental group Slingshot, said evidence has shown that the state needs to take swift measures to eradicate PFAS chemicals from state water supplies.

“Maine has been on the forefront of this crisis … but there’s a way to go,” Elliott said. “We must turn off the PFAS contamination tap.”

But several speakers opposed some of the measures outlined in the legislation.

Brad Sawyer, director of government affairs with the Maine Rural Water Association, said the bills could bring unintended consequences – including, but not limited to, higher rates from customers served by water utilities.

“To protect Mainers who drink water, we believe it would be best to leave it to regulations,” Sawyer said, arguing against legislating the reduction or elimination of PFAS chemicals.

The member communities under the association’s auspices could apply for grants or forgivable loans, committee members argued during a brief exchange. However, Sawyer said such a scenario likely would not fully tamp down on passing costs on to ratepayers to achieve compliance.

“It might not be a silver bullet,” Sawyer said.