Mainers Urge Legislature to Prioritize Clean-Up of ‘Forever Chemicals’
Public health experts, environmentalists, members of religious community testified in support of state legislation to address toxic PFAS pollution in Maine
AUGUSTA—Maine children, families, and farmers urgently need new state legislation to address toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluroalkyl substances) pollution, according to doctors, environmentalists, public health advocates and other Mainers who spoke on Friday at a public hearing before the Maine Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
The bill under consideration, LD 1943, will allow the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to designate PFAS (and other emerging threats) as hazardous chemicals—allowing the state to prioritize and fund clean-up of contaminated sites.
The bill was put forward by Maine DEP and sponsored by Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond).
Sarah Woodbury, South Portland resident and state advocacy director for the Environmental Health Strategy Center, testified: “Mainers deserve to have a DEP that is empowered to quickly identify and respond to hazardous substances found, both to limit further contamination and to begin the process of holding responsible parties accountable for their actions. Under the current Maine statute, we have to wait for the federal government to identify hazardous substances. As Governor Mills said in her State of the State ‘We are not Washington. We are Maine.’ We should not have to wait for Washington to act to protect our communities from hazardous substances.”
Dr. Lani Graham, Portland resident, family physician, and member of Governor Janet Mills’ PFAS Task Force, testified: “As a member of the Task Force, I am very aware of how hard all government agencies have worked over the last year to address Maine’s PFAS problem with woefully insufficient resources and a relatively unresponsive federal government. My hat is off to them. Everything was thought through to determine where risks were highest, with a view to protecting the most vulnerable Maine people. But sadly, there is no way to address this problem without additional authority and funds. This bill offers that opportunity now.”
Sharon Treat, Hallowell resident and senior attorney for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), testified on behalf of IATP and said: “The data make clear that the State of Maine is facing a potentially enormous PFAS contamination problem. LD 1923 provides one tool to start to address that problem, by allowing the State to classify PFAS compounds and other emerging contaminants as hazardous substances under the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s Uncontrolled Sites Program, thereby granting the State clear legal authority and freeing up funds to clean up and remediate contamination.”
Rev. Richard Killmer, Yarmouth resident and retired Presbyterian minister, testified in support of LD 1923 on behalf of the Maine Council of Churches: “The Council is especially concerned about the health impacts of toxic chemical exposure from PFAS on lower-income families as well as children and teens whose young bodies are developing and whose potential parenting years are well in front of them. Maine needs LD 1923, to help protect our most vulnerable populations from harm to their health, and to preserve our farms and beautiful environment for future generations.”
Phelps Turner, Portland resident and senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation Maine, said: “Currently, few resources exist for farmers, landowners, and communities struggling to address PFAS contamination. If Maine is going to start tackling PFAS contamination, and the resulting harm to the health of Mainers and to the health of our environment, we must identify sources of funding for cleaning up PFAS contamination. LD 1923 does just that.”
Maine Conservation Alliance, Sierra Club Maine, Toxics Action Center, Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, and other advocates for Mainers’ health and the environment also spoke in support of LD 1923.
The bill is a priority of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a partnership of 28 environmental, conservation and public health organizations representing over 100,000 members who want to protect the good health, good jobs and quality of life that our environment provides.
PFAS exposure has been linked to kidney cancer and testicular cancer, as well as thyroid disease, compromised immune systems, and infertility. PFAS are used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as nonstick coatings on cookware and water- and grease-resistant coatings on food packaging, outerwear, and furniture. These chemicals are also used in many firefighting foams, which then contaminate soil and water. State-ordered testing in 2019 revealed nearly all sewage sludge used as fertilizer or for compost in Maine is contaminated with toxic PFAS.
This week, the Governor’s PFAS Task Force released its final recommendations, which health advocates criticized as not strong enough to protect Mainers from the harmful health impacts of PFAS exposure.
Many Mainers first learned about PFAS pollution in 2019, when headlines broke nationwide about Arundel dairy farmer Fred Stone’s livelihood being ruined by PFAS contamination of his land, cows, and milk—a result of state-sanctioned spreading of sewage and industrial sludge on his farmland as fertilizer. Nearly all other sites where sewage and industrial sludge was spread across the state remain untested for PFAS contamination.
In November, the Maine CDC reported that PFAS has already contaminated multiple public water supplies, including those serving schools and a preschool.
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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.