Legislators hear from environmental experts, industry professionals on PFAS regulations
Members of the Maine Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee gathered Monday to hear from environmental experts and industry professionals ahead of next session, when they will have the opportunity to continue to amend Maine’s first-in-the-nation reporting law for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS, also called forever chemicals, are found in many everyday products to resist heat, oil and stains. The chemicals have been linked to several health problems, such as cancer, liver damage and infertility, leading Maine to regulate their use.
Maine was the first state to pass a PFAS reporting rule in 2021, which will require manufacturers of products with intentionally added PFAS to report the chemicals’ purpose and amount used to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Originally the reporting deadline had been January 2023 but it was extended to January 2025 through a new bill last session, which also amended the rule to provide exemptions for small manufacturers and used products, among others.
By January 2030, the rule will also prohibit the sale of any product containing intentionally added PFAS in the state, unless the PFAS in the product is specifically designated as a currently unavoidable use by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Three bills to be carried over into the next session could be used to further amend the statutory language. These proposals come from Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond), Sen. Henry Ingwersen (D-York) and Sen. President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook).
Input from environmental experts and industry professionals
Stakeholders, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Defend Our Health and IDEXX will be gathering input ahead of January, when there is expected to be an additional public hearing for the legislature to consider their proposals.
On Monday, some of these industry leaders as well as environmental experts shared feedback with the environment committee on the rollout of the new law.
Kyla Bennett from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility urged legislators to set regulations on PFAS using the precautionary principle — meaning when activity raises a threat to human or environmental health, precautionary measures should be taken, even if the cause and effect relationships are not yet fully understood scientifically.
Bennett said the risk to human life should supersede products of convenience, such as water-proof mascara, that often have PFAS. “Let the mascara run,” Bennett said.
Linda Birnbaum spoke specifically to the health risks PFAS pose as well as the disproportionate effect they have on marginalized communities.
Given these health effects, the committee asked if coroners should be required to test for PFAS when determining cause of death. “I’d rather have a mandate that insurance companies should pay for PFAS testing,” Birnbaum said, adding that it is difficult to portion out what percentage of deaths are linked to PFAS due to compounding factors.
From the industry perspective, director of product compliance for IDEXX Laboratories Diana Rondeau described how her company has been preparing to comply with the rule. IDEXX, headquartered in Westbrook, offers veterinary diagnostics, software and water microbiology testing. Their suppliers have concerns about releasing trade secrets directly to IDEXX, she said.
“After five years of significant ongoing investments in technology, negotiations with suppliers, and our own research, we can only confirm PFAS use in roughly 1% of our 14,000 unique materials,” Rondeau said. “Without further information from our suppliers we are not able to declare a product PFAS free, nor report an exact concentration for the final saleable product.”
Rep. Victoria Doudera (D-Camden) asked, “What are the conversations when you talk to suppliers and say, ‘Hey, I need this information?’” Rondeau responded that it often involves a lot of negotiation.
Rondeau said it’s a challenge to get suppliers to pay attention to state rules and instead sees federal regulation as a solution. “More national-level regulations will only help us,” she said.
Changes on the federal level, too
Stephanie Griffin with the Toxics Release Inventory Program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spoke to the committee about the final rule the EPA released last month to provide the agency, its partners and the public with the largest-ever dataset of PFAS manufactured and used in the U.S.
This rule, which falls under the Toxic Substances Control Act, will require all people that manufacture or have manufactured PFAS and PFAS-containing articles (including imports) since 2011 to report information to EPA on PFAS uses, production volumes, disposal, exposures and hazards.
“This rule requires information on each key facet and each year,” Griffin said, explaining that it does not have any exemptions, which is the case for many other reporting programs.
The Toxic Substances Control Act didn’t have reporting on PFAS until 2020. The agency is currently developing a reporting tool specifically built for this new rule.
Griffin said the data collection period began Monday and will run for one year, although most manufacturers are going to have a six month long reporting window after that first year.