AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House of Representatives took the first step in banning the use of pesticides that contain forever chemicals by 2030 on Thursday in a tight vote that showed the friction underlying efforts to rein in the substances’ spread in Maine.
The bill from Rep. Margaret O’Neil, D-Saco, would ban distribution of pesticides with intentionally added perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances by 2030. It would be a gradual but stringent step to outlaw the chemicals linked to cancer and other ailments while Maine grapples with increased discoveries of contaminated farmland, water and food sources.
The proposal divided the Legislature’s agriculture committee, with the majority of the panel voting to kill the bill. The House bucked the committee in a 75-61 vote supporting a version of the bill on Thursday. All but five Democrats voted to advance it, while just two Republicans defected from their party to support the measure. The bill awaits further action in the Senate.
The brief floor debate illustrated some of the tension around how quickly to advance efforts to regulate PFAS in the state.
“How often do we need to repeat history by understanding just how dangerous something is, but not taking the steps to remove it?” said Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland.
Industries such as the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine were opposed to the bill, saying the efforts to ban the chemicals would be premature while federal regulators are still studying them. It also said the ban would rob farmers of one-third of available pesticides. Gov. Janet Mills’ administration raised similar concerns, saying PFAS research is still evolving.
The main argument raised against the bill on the House floor came from Rep. Michael Lemelin, R-Chelsea, who characterized the bill as an attempt to give activists more control over the state’s ability to regulate the chemicals. It prompted a harsh response from Rep. William Pluecker, I-Warren, who has been vocal about the chemicals’ effects on farmers in his region.
“This PFAS is poisoning our farmers,” he said. “We heard from the families who have young children who, to put it bluntly, can no longer breastfeed because their own body fluids are so contaminated,” he said.
The pesticide phase-out would join a host of other early legislative actions on PFAS, including the world’s first ban on most products containing the chemicals effective in 2030. The Legislature is also on track to start a $100 million fund to clean up contaminated agricultural land and address health effects.