Committee supports delaying Maine’s first-in-the-nation PFAS reporting law
A legislative committee is recommending that the state delay new reporting requirements for manufacturers of products that contain PFAS, the so-called "forever chemicals" are at the center of growing health concerns
Companies were supposed to start filing reports with the state in January about any products that contain PFAS under a new law that put Maine at the forefront of efforts nationally to regulate the common chemicals. But the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is still working on the rules to implement the complex reporting process, which many companies and business groups said was unworkable. And the DEP has already granted temporary extensions to more than 2,500 companies.
On Wednesday, members of the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously to push back that reporting requirement to January of 2025. The revised bill would also exempt manufacturers with 25 or fewer employees from filing reports and changes the way that companies can report PFAS content in products to reflect the fact that testing methods are still being developed for the thousands of types of PFAS that are used commercial.
Committee co-chair Sen. Stacey Brenner of Scarborough said the delay also gives lawmakers more time to delve into the complex issue. The committee plans to seek permission from legislative leaders to hold additional meetings during the six-month period between sessions.
"What we've heard from the DEP is that there are two people working on this and the pressure value needs a little relief,” Brenner said. “We need to be able to free them up and take some pressure off so that there's plenty of time for meaningful rulemaking and perhaps a little more guidance about what the rulemaking would look like."
Maine has been among the most aggressive state in the country when it comes to 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, the chemicals have turned up in extremely high levels in farm fields and rural drinking water wells in Maine in recent years. That contamination has been linked to contaminated sludge that was spread on farmfields under a state-licensed beneficial reuse program.
Lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Janet Mills have set aside more than $100 million in recent years to respond to PFAS pollution. And the product reporting bill was among a suite of PFAS-related bills that passed the Legislature two years ago with strong bipartisan support.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce had helped lead a campaign to delay or rollback the new regulations. During a lengthy public hearing last month, lawmakers heard from business owners in Maine who said the reporting requirements would be impossible to meet because some of the products they produce or work on contain thousands of parts. The owner of an aviation repair and maintenance company in Bangor, for instance, said airplanes can contain as many as 400,000 individual parts and the law would require his company to try to get information from parts manufacturers on every one of them.
“I'm embedded in Maine. I don't want to leave,” Chris Kilgour, CEO of C&L Aviation in Bangor, told the committee at the time. “But if I can't operate here, I would have no choice."
Environmental groups urged lawmakers not to scrap the first-in-the-nation law. And Sarah Woodbury with the organization Defend Our Health, which has been among the most vocal on PFAS issues in Maine, said Wednesday that pushing back the filing timeline makes sense at this point.
“Obviously we would have liked to see the rules implemented in a more timely manner,” Woodbury said in an interview. “But due to the department being so behind . . . we are satisfied with that extension.”
The bill, L.D. 217, now goes to the House and Senate for consideration.