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Business groups urge lawmakers to delay first-in-nation PFAS reporting rules

In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, dairy cows rest outside the home of Fred and Laura Stone at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine. The farm has been forced to shut down after sludge spread on the land was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk.
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, dairy cows rest outside the home of Fred and Laura Stone at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine. The farm has been forced to shut down after sludge spread on the land was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk.

State lawmakers heard competing narratives Wednesday about whether Maine needs to merely tweak or entirely overhaul a first-in-the-nation law that sought to remove PFAS from consumer products.

Maine made national headlines two years ago when the Legislature passed a measure that aimed to prohibit the sale of most products made with the so-called forever chemicals starting in 2030. Another key provision of that law required product manufacturers to disclose any products with “intentionally added” PFAS beginning this past January.

But just 60 reports have been filed with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to date. Meanwhile, the department granted more than 2,500 temporary extensions to companies, according to Mark Margerum in the DEP’s Office of the Commissioner.

“Companies were saying this is going to take much longer than that to gather the data internally,” Margerum told members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, as well as other regional chambers, has been leading the push to at least push back that reporting requirement even later since the DEP has yet to finalize the rules that business would have to follow. And Chris Kilgour, CEO of C&L Aviation in Bangor, was among several business owners who warned that that law’s requirements were likely impossible to meet.

"An individual aircraft has about 400,000 individual parts. And I work on about 10 different types of aircraft so that would be about 4 million different types of parts,” Kilgour said.

C&L Aviation employs about 250 people to maintain, repair and customize commercial and private airplanes. Kilgour estimated that the company grossed $100 million in sales last year. But he said it’s likely impossible for him to track down whether each part his shops use contain PFAS. And even if they did, he said the Federal Aviation Administration requires certain parts be used in certain planes so finding safer alternatives is not an option.

"I'm embedded in Maine. I don't want to leave,” Kilgour said. “But if I can't operate here, I would have no choice."

Maine is among a handful of states that have been pushing hardest to regulate PFAS, which is short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals have been used for decades in a broad range of products, from nonstick cookware and waterproof fabrics to cosmetics and high-tech airplane and automotive parts.

But they've been dubbed "forever chemicals" because they don't break down easily, and some of them have been linked to cancer, kidney disease and other health problems. While PFAS contamination has been a known problem for years around military bases and airports (because firefighting foam contains the chemicals) as well as some industrial sites, Maine is finding PFAS hotspots in farm fields and rural drinking water wells around the state tied to contaminated sludge that was unknowingly laced with the chemicals.

The committee heard hours of testimony on multiple bills to change the product reporting law. One would only push back the deadline until October — which the DEP’s Margerum said is likely before rulemaking will be finalized — while another would delay it until 2025.

Sen. Joe Baldacci, a Bangor Democrat who voted for the new law two years ago, is proposing a delay until January 2024. Additionally, Baldacci’s bill would narrow the scope of the law to apply to fewer compounds and would eliminate the prohibition on PFAS in products starting in 2030. Instead, Baldacci’s proposal would depend on the DEP to make a determination of what products can and cannot be sold rather than an all-out ban.

"I am hopeful that we’ve acted appropriately and that we’re just taking a moment here to really just recalibrate here to make sure the law is successful,” Baldacci said. “I think we all want a cleaner environment. But I think we all need to recalibrate a bit to help make all of the parts of this state work together to get it done.”

But ardent supporters of the law countered that companies had nearly two years to prepare for the reporting requirements. And they said the bill to ban PFAS in products garnered widespread support two years ago because reducing the flow of the chemicals into wastewater and the environment is the only long-term solution.

"Tragically, a very large chemical family known as PFAS was carelessly allowed to contaminate Maine land, water, food and people for decades,” said Dr. Lani Graham, a retired physician and the state’s former public health officer who also served on the state's PFAS Task Force. That task force’s recommendations helped guide the legislative response to the crisis.

Graham supports an alternate proposal to extend the reporting deadline to this October and to exempt manufacturers with less than $20 million in national sales.

"Thanks to the hard work of many, including this body, Maine leads the nation in taking action,” Graham said. “This bill is modest and generous, perhaps too generous, in allowing users of these chemicals lengthy periods to proceed with the essential process of phasing out."

Representatives for the administration of Gov. Janet Mills, who has largely supported Maine's aggressive response to PFAS, testified neither for nor against the bills on Wednesday. But a DEP official supported pushing back the reporting deadline to January of 2025 to allow the agency to finalize rules and to provide businesses with more time to meet the requirement.

The committee will hold a public hearing on the bills on a future date.