Business groups push Maine DEP to delay ‘forever chemicals’ reporting law
Several dozen businesses and trade groups are urging the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to delay new reporting requirements for products containing so-called "forever chemicals." But the new law's sponsor says companies that use PFAS had plenty of time to prepare.
The Maine Legislature recently passed a slew of bills dealing with the chemicals known as PFAS, which been used for decades in countless household products but are emerging as a top environmental and health concern. One new law requires manufacturers to begin reporting in January any products in which PFAS has been quote "intentionally added."
It's a first step toward a first-in-the-nation total ban on PFAS in products starting in 2030. But businesses are warning that they can't meet a Jan. 1 reporting requirement.
"This reporting law impacts millions of products and thousands of companies doing business in Maine, selling products to Maine. It's a big task,” said Ben Lucas, government relations specialist with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. The chamber was among more 200 trade groups, businesses and advocates that participated in a recent stakeholder meeting with DEP officials to discuss a preliminary draft of the rules that lay out the reporting requirements and process.
"Our concern is that kind of rushing this rulemaking process into a six-month period is going to be setting up a rule and a law that businesses simply aren't going to be able to comply with in Maine," Lucas said.
The DEP received comments from dozens of industries asking to delay implementation by at least a year. Those organizations range from Maine-based businesses to the Japanese Electric & Electronic Industrial Associations. IDEXX, the international veterinary diagnostics firm headquartered in Westbrook, said it would need to obtain PFAS information from 1,000 suppliers of roughly 9,000 components, which the company predicted would take several years.
Appliance maker Whirlpool says the law's broad definition of PFAS could force the company to switch to a less-efficient and highly flammable insulating foam. The American Apparel and Footwear Association said members are working to phase out PFAS within 5 years but they are having trouble getting suppliers to provide information, some of which is considered intellectual property.
“With an effective reporting deadline of January 1, 2023, manufacturers and companies have little knowledge of what information is required and how to comply with a broad mandate that currently has few details about what information is necessary and the process for submitting information,” the association’s president and CEO, Stephen Lamar, wrote to the DEP.
Stacey Keefer, the executive director of the Maine Marine Trades Association in Rockland, said removing PFAS from products is important. But she added there is a lot of confusion among boat makers and marine retail shops. She gave one example of a Maine-based retailer that carries 32,000 products from hundreds of manufacturers.
"So we have concerns would it be the burden of that retailers to make sure that each and every vendor that they represent has registered their products?” Keefer said in an interview. “That could be a full-time job for that retail business to have to fill and double-check all of the work that the manufacturers are supposed to be doing."
There are thousands of varieties of PFAS and the chemicals are everywhere in modern goods, from nonstick cookware and stain-repellant carpets to waterproof jackets and food packaging. But they're called "forever chemicals" because they take so long to break down. And some varieties have been linked to cancer, kidney disease, low birth weight and vaccine resistance in children.
Maine is at the forefront of attempting to regulate PFAS because the chemicals are turning up in water supplies, farm fields and even whitetail deer.
"I know that proudly Maine has taken a lead on a number of initiatives,” said Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, the sponsor of the 2021 bill that created Maine's PFAS reporting law. Gramlich said there are no surprises here for manufacturers so there is no reason to delay implementation.
"This has been a law now for a year,” she said. “The industry has been well aware of it. They have had the opportunity to weigh in during the legislative process and I think this is just another example of their unwillingness to comply. They were very clear in their position during the public hearings."
As a member of the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Gramlich has heard from farmers and families whose lives have been upended by PFAS pollution through no fault of their own. She co-sponsored several of the bills related to forever chemicals and says it is incumbent on Maine to make sure consumers are not exposed to PFAS.
"For us to be aware of how toxic these forever chemicals are and not do anything is unconscionable, in my opinion,” Gramlich said. “We have a moral obligation to address this with all of the tools in our arsenal."
David Madore, deputy commissioner at the Maine DEP, says the department is reviewing the comments but has not yet made a decision on the requests for a delay.