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Maine senators back bipartisan bill on ‘forever chemical’ contamination in drinking water

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Maine senators back bipartisan bill on ‘forever chemical’ contamination in drinking water

Feb 26, 2024 | 12:02 pm ET
By AnnMarie Hilton
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Maine senators back bipartisan bill on ‘forever chemical’ contamination in drinking water
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In July, a U.S. Geological Survey study estimated that at least 45% of U.S. tap water contains at least one type of PFAS chemical. (Getty Images)

U.S. Senators Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, joined two of their Democratic colleagues on new legislation to address contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in private wells — which deliver drinking water to more than half of all Mainers. 

The bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure that states have the flexibility to use federal funding to help private well owners test for toxins like PFAS, often referred to as forever chemicals, from their drinking water. Those dollars are part of the $5 billion provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to a news release from Collins and King. 

“With more than half of Maine residents getting their drinking water from private wells, and an estimated 23 million people or more nationwide relying on residential wells, it is important that the historic investments in safe drinking water help all families,” Collins said in the release. 

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Collins and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who was also a lead sponsor of the bill, both served as lead negotiators on the infrastructure package, which included $10 billion to specifically address PFAS and other emerging contaminants. Half of that is designed to target small and disadvantaged communities.

Although Congress intended for private wells to be eligible, the Environmental Protection Agency is interpreting the statute to only allow assistance for private wells that connect to public water systems, the release said. This bill would clarify that assistance could benefit private well owners who don’t.

The EPA is also expected to announce soon its set of guidelines limiting the amount of certain types of PFAS allowed in drinking water.

“Every Maine household deserves access to clean drinking water free of harsh or toxic chemicals like PFAS,” King said. “This is a proactive step forward to better protect our drinking water and promote public health.”

Maine has been on the forefront of the effort to address PFAS contamination. In 2021, it became the first state to pass a PFAS reporting rule, which will require manufacturers who intentionally add the chemicals to report the amount used and their purpose to the state Department of Environmental Protection. After industry pushback, the reporting deadline was extended to January 2025 last session, through a bill that also amended the rule to provide exemptions for small manufacturers and used products, among others. 

By 2030, the rule will also prohibit the sale of any product containing intentionally added PFAS in the state, unless the PFAS is specifically designated as a currently unavoidable use. However, three bills were carried over to the current legislative session that could amend that language further.