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Bill to adjust Maine's PFAS-in-products bill advances

In this June 17, 2019, file photo in Washington, a label states that these pans do not contain PFAS, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
Ellen Knickmeyer
AP file
In this June 17, 2019, file photo in Washington, a label states that these pans do not contain PFAS, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

After months of negotiations with stakeholders, a legislative committee has endorsed changes to Maine's law regulating so-called "forever chemicals" in products.

The bill continues to face opposition from some Republican lawmakers and businesses as it heads to the full House and Senate for consideration.

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee split 6-to-5 along party lines on the proposal to delay by two years — or until 2032 — Maine's ban on PFAS in most products.

Some manufacturers would face earlier deadlines, however.

For example, cosmetics, cookware, cleaning products and menstruation products could not be sold in Maine beginning in 2026 if they contain "intentionally added" PFAS. And starting in 2029, outdoor apparel that uses PFAS for, say, waterproofing would have to clearly disclose that fact to consumers.

“The compromise we reached today strikes an important balance that addresses the concerns of Maine businesses without backtracking on our commitment to protecting the health and environment of all Mainers,” Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, said in a statement after the vote. “Since the PFAS crisis first came to our attention, Maine has been an international leader in combating this issue, setting an example for other states to follow. This legislation will make it easier for businesses to comply with the law while still ensuring that we remain diligent in our efforts to prevent further contamination across the state.”

Short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are industrial compounds that are widely used to create the nonstick surfaces on cookware, to add water- and grease-repellent properties to fabrics, in firefighting foam and in countless other products. But their durability means they do not break down easily in the environment or the body — hence the nickname "forever chemicals" — and some of the compounds have been linked to cancer, kidney disease, low birth weight and other serious health problems.

Maine has been among the states pushing hardest to regulate PFAS in the absence of more aggressive federal laws. The state has been grappling for several years with hundreds of sites contaminated with the chemicals, primarily linked to contaminated sludge that was used as fertilizer on farms under a state-licensed program.

This latest compromise is the result of months of negotiations by environmental and health groups, industry representatives and state environmental officials over changes to Maine's first-in-the-nation law. Businesses across a broad spectrum of industries have successfully lobbied lawmakers to delay reporting requirements and have raised concerns that removing the chemicals from

The latest bill largely exempts the automotive, aviation and boating industries with the exception of textiles and refrigerants used by those industries. Medical and many veterinary products are also exempt. And the bill would give heating, air conditioning and refrigeration manufactures until 2040 to comply.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has been heavily involved in the negotiations on behalf of businesses while groups such as Defend Our Health have represented environmental and health advocates.

Patrick Woodcock, president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, offered qualified support for the latest changes on Thursday, although the group remains concerned about aspects of the bill.

"I think the intent, we can work with a lot of it," Woodcock said. "But as you heard from IDEXX, the exact language of all of this is really important. Even the textile component and how it is worded could have implications."

IDEXX, which is a global veterinary diagnostics firm headquartered in Maine, has also been involved in discussions about the bill.

Supporters contend that removing PFAS in products will reduce the flow of the "forever chemicals" into Maine's waste stream and environment even as the state spends tens of millions of dollars to clean up contaminated sites. The bill is likely to face Republican opposition in the House and Senate, however.

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