FILE Drinking fountain

(The Center Square) – Maine lawmakers are considering a proposal that would give the state authority to clean up sites contaminated with "forever" chemicals.

The proposal, which has cleared a key legislative committee, would authorize the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to add perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, to the list of hazardous substances. The changes would allow the regulatory agency to investigate and require polluters to clean up contaminated sites.

The Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 7-3 last Wednesday to advance the legislation. The vote went largely along party lines, with Republicans opposing the bill. It must still be approved by the full Legislature.

The measure is one of a dozen bills being considered by lawmakers this session that seek to deal with the chemicals, including setting limits on PFAS in drinking water.

The 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.

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.

Gov. Janet 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.

Mills wrote that the state is doing what it can to tackle PFAS contamination but said a solution will ultimately require an massive influx of federal funds to "more broadly and aggressively undertake these critically needed actions."

"Of course, PFAS contamination is not a Maine problem; it is a national problem that ultimately requires a federal response," Mils wrote.

But lawmakers who advanced Maine's proposal said the state must do more to get the problem of PFAS contamination under control while they await federal action.

"The federal government isn’t coming any time soon to save us from this mess, so we need to have state-based, innovative solutions and the capacity to manage it on our own," Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, the panel's co-chairwoman, said ahead of Wednesday's vote. "This is a vehicle to do that."