(The Center Square) – Maine is taking steps to regulate so-called 'forever chemicals' in the state's drinking water systems with a slate of newly approved legislation.
Lawmakers have passed several bills this session that seek to deal with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which have been used to make products from non-stick frying pans to firefighting foam.
Gov. Janet Mills has signed at least four measures related to PFAS contamination, including LD 129 which requires public drinking water systems to remove the compounds if the concentrations test above 20 parts per trillion.
Mills also signed bills banning aerial spraying of PFAS chemicals, extending the statute of limitations for private lawsuits involving PFAS pollution to six years and a measure requiring the state Department of Agriculture to conduct research on crops that can be safely grown on contaminated farms.
Another bill awaiting action by Mills, LD 1503 would require manufacturers to report when PFAS compounds are used and phase them out entirely by 2030. There are exceptions for manufacturers in the bill, such as situations where there aren't alternatives.
PFAS chemicals were once used in products ranging from rain coats and firefighting foam to nonstick pans. They have been dubbed "forever chemicals" because they accumulate in the human body and can take thousands of years to degrade.
Research has found potential links between high levels of PFAS and illnesses, ranging from kidney cancer to high cholesterol and problems in pregnancies.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set its PFAS standards three years ago, classifying the compounds as an "emerging contaminant" linked to liver cancer and other serious health problems.
Dozens of states are weighing proposals to eliminate PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and other products, in addition to setting limits on the level of contaminants in drinking water.
There are currently no federal standards for PFAS in drinking water, but guidelines set a combined limit of 70 ppt.
In Congress, a bill was recently introduced that would add PFAS to the federal list of hazardous substances and set a national drinking water standard, among other changes.
Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins are among a group of lawmakers that have petitioned the Biden administration to divert some of the $1.9 trillion in recently signed pandemic stimulus package to be expended on PFAS contamination.
Mills wrote to the state's congressional delegation and the EPA earlier this month asking federal regulators to provide more money and support to the state to help it deal with PFAS contamination. She also called for adding the chemicals to the EPA's list of hazardous substances and for setting maximum contaminant levels in drinking water.
Environmental groups say the state and federal government need to focus on removing the contamination but also phasing out use of harmful PFAS chemicals entirely.
"The cost of disposal of PFAS contaminated waste is falling to municipalities, which are already facing budget shortfalls," Beth Ahearn, with the nonprofit Maine Conservation Voters, said in recent testimony on the measures. "We can break the cycle of contamination and clean-up by phasing out PFAS in consumer and industrial products."