In Important First Step, Maine Requires Reporting of a “Forever Chemical” in Consumer Products

Environmental Health Strategy Center
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Advocates call for passage of pending legislation to expand scope to all uses of all PFAS

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection adopted a rule today requiring manufacturers to report the use of PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) in a wide range of consumer products. Under Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act, the reporting requirement is a first step in a regulatory process that could result in phasing out remaining uses of PFOS in consumer products. 

PFOS is one member of the class of about 5,000 “forever chemicals” known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), many of which never break down in the environment, remaining highly toxic for decades.

Health advocates likened the decision to a baby taking its first step, and urged state policymakers to pass pending legislation that would expand this disclosure requirement to all PFAS as a class.

“That’s one small step for Maine, but a giant leap for state leadership to eliminate the forever chemicals. Now the Maine Legislature must pass the Governor’s bill to require industry to disclose all uses of all PFAS,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. “When that pending legislation is signed into law, Maine will lead the nation in exposing the scourge of forever chemicals in everyday products.”

The pending state legislation, LD 2147 would require manufacturers to report all industrial uses of PFAS and all uses in consumer and commercial products sold in the state of Maine. This bill, if passed, would be the first and most extensive PFAS disclosure law in the nation.

PFOS, the chemical addressed in Maine’s rule, was largely phased out of production in the US nearly twenty years ago in the face of threats of regulation, and has been partially restricted by the global Stockholm Convention for a decade. 

Yet, as the Strategy Center documented in comments to the agency, PFOS has continued to be found in North American consumer products in the last several years. Much of this PFOS is likely from the decomposition of other PFAS into PFOS. In an extremely narrow interpretation of its authority, the Maine agency refused to require the disclosure of these larger PFAS, known as “precursors,” which have been documented to break down to form PFOS. This loophole will likely swallow the rule, so that even the narrow universe of items found with PFOS may remain exempt from regulation.

Despite the near universal recognition of the dangers of PFOS, the 3M Corporation vigorously opposed the state’s action, likely more concerned about further legal liabilities for its inexcusable conduct than protection of children from a chemical it once manufactured.

Upwards of 5,000 chemicals are members of the PFAS class, and all share carbon-fluorine bonds that make them extremely difficult to break down, meaning they can persist for decades in both the human body and in the environment.  A large and growing body of evidence has linked shockingly low levels of exposure to many chemicals in the PFAS class to cancers, immune system deficiencies, and learning disabilities in children.

Health advocates in Maine have called for government action to protect children and families from PFAS chemicals ever since news broke in 2019 about the dairy farmer in Arundel whose livelihood was ruined by widespread PFAS contamination of his farmland. This toxic pollution has been linked to spreading of sludge contaminated by PFAS used by the paper industry and in consumer and commercial products.

The PFOS rule was adopted under the authority of Maine’s Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Products law, also known as the Kid Safe Products Act. The Environmental Health Strategy Center, along with a broad coalition of advocates, advanced this legislation in 2008, establishing a policy precedent that has since been replicated in several other states.

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The Environmental Health Strategy Center works to create a world where all people are healthy and thriving, with equal access to safe food and drinking water, and products that are toxic-free and climate-friendly.