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Maine advocates say EPA's PFAS designation is a historic first step, but are looking for more action

EPA Forever Chemicals
Gerry Broome
AP file
The Chemours Company's PPA facility at the Fayetteville Works plant near Fayetteville, N.C. where the chemical known as GenX, a PFAS, is produced is shown June 15, 2018. The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, designated two “forever chemicals” used in cookware, carpets and firefighting foams as hazardous substances, clearing the way for quicker cleanup of the toxic compounds, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it will designate two common PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances.

The designation of these so-called "forever chemicals" is still subject to rulemaking, but could eventually require manufacturers to report spills and force some to pay for cleanup.

Sarah Woodbury of the nonprofit Defend Our Health said most testing and cleanup projects in Maine so far have been funded by the state and local communities.

"With this EPA ruling it's our hope that the state could maybe get some funding and some help," she said.

Woodbury acknowledged the announcement is historic, because it's the first time the EPA has designated a chemical as hazardous under a 40-year-old law known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), or "Superfund" law.

But she and other advocates questioned whether the EPA policy goes far enough, as it will designate just two substances as hazardous, while there are at least 9,000 PFAS chemicals, Woodbury said.

"We feel that that's a whack-a-mole strategy, and that they really need to be addressing these fluorinated chemicals as a class," said Heather Spaulding, the deputy director and senior policy director for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Maine already regulates PFAS chemicals as a class of hazardous chemicals, and Spaulding believes the state could be a model for others.

The EPA's proposal applies to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). In a statement, Dave Madore, spokesman for Maine's Department of Environmental Protection, suggested the EPA's designation could perhaps eliminate a step that the state needs to take before requiring cleanup from contaminated sites.

"When EPA finalizes a rule listing PFOA and PFOS as a hazardous substance, DEP will no longer need to determine those chemicals meet certain criteria on a site prior to requiring cleanup under the Uncontrolled Sites Act," he said.