Lawmakers move to delay start of first-in-the-nation PFAS law

May 11—Maine is poised to delay its first-in-the-nation law forcing manufacturers to notify the state if the products they sell inside state borders contain harmful forever chemicals. But lawmakers plan to move forward with the state's plan to ban most products that contain PFAS by 2030.

The Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously agreed Wednesday to postpone implementation of the reporting requirement by two years to give the state Department of Environmental Protection time to develop robust reporting rules.

Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, said the Maine law had achieved its big-picture goal of drawing attention to the volume of forever chemicals in manufactured products, but admitted the original reporting deadline was too aggressive.

"The pressure valve needs a little release," said Brenner, the committee co-chair. "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 on what that rulemaking would look like."

The committee unanimously endorsed L.D. 217, An Act to Support Manufacturers Whose Products Contain Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. It was introduced by Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, but included parts of another bill proposed by Sen. Henry Ingwersen, D-Arundel.

Unanimous committee support for the bipartisan compromise left members hopeful the bill will sail through both the House and Senate before the session ends next month. The committee hopes to meet this summer with interest groups and the DEP to study how best to encourage manufacturer compliance.

In addition to the two-year delay, the amended bill waived the registration requirement for small companies, a provision the Maine State Chamber of Commerce had sought to help businesses that said they couldn't afford costly product testing. Some were threatening to close if forced to do so.

The proposed bill would maintain the 2030 ban on the sale of almost all products that contain forever chemicals, with exemptions only for products that Maine deems essential. Small companies that wouldn't have to report the chemical content would still be subject to the 2030 ban.

Environmental groups like Defend Our Health which worked hard to pass the 2030 ban were satisfied.

"We worked hard to come up with a compromise that kept the integrity of the PFAS products disclosure and ban law while at the same time providing the business community with some more time to comply," said advocacy director Sarah Woodbury of Defend Our Health.

Under a July 2021 law, manufacturers had until January to register products containing so-called forever chemicals, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. But only about 60 have done so, state officials said. The state issued more than 2,500 reporting extensions.

A manufacturer of a product that contains forever chemicals who failed to report would be required to file a written certificate of compliance or exemption. If independent testing demonstrated a violation, DEP could issue a letter of warning, levy a fine of up to $10,000 a day and issue a ban on in-state sales.

Maine is on the front lines of PFAS legislation. Last year, after a string of farms connected to the state's decades-old sludge spreading program shut down because of PFAS contamination, Maine became the first state to ban sludge recycling and PFAS in nonessential products.

To date, Maine has identified 56 PFAS-contaminated farms.

Called forever chemicals because of how long they take to break down, the manmade compounds are used in many common household products as well as industrial settings. Even trace amounts have been linked to compromised immune systems, low birth weights, and several types of cancer.

In total, Maine has dedicated more than $100 million over the past two years to address PFAS.

Maine is developing new even stricter drinking water standards than it already had passed and a broad range of safety standards intended to protect the public food system and determine when local farmers trying to recover from a PFAS crisis can safely return to the market.