Maine has let national groups apply for extensions on behalf of their members, delaying public knowledge about the PFAS in their products.
The vast majority of entities granted more time to say if their products have PFAS are part of marine and boat-related industries. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

One challenge with “forever chemicals” is that the public can’t always know which products contain them, meaning people can’t decide for themselves whether they want to buy items with toxic substances.

That was the argument Maine lawmakers leaned on when they passed a law last year to require all manufacturers selling items in Maine — from cars to T-shirts — to tell the state whether their products contain the chemicals. Requiring disclosure was also a step toward Maine’s plan to prohibit the sale of products containing the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

As the deadline to make the information public approaches, however, the state has been allowing national lobbying groups to delay the requirement on behalf of their members, some of whom said they did not even know they had been granted an extension.

The Bangor Daily News spoke to 13 entities to whom the state gave a six-month extension. Of those, seven said they were not aware they had requested an extension, let alone been granted one. One company said it had been planning to meet the Jan. 1 deadline and was surprised when the BDN informed it that the state was giving it six months more.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is not relying on specific criteria to grant the extensions. Rather it is allowing entities to delay based on whether it would be difficult for them to comply with the law, Deputy Commissioner David Madore said.

The department “reviews the substance of each request. Reducing the demand on limited laboratory capacity is a priority consideration,” Madore said.

So far the department has granted 1,010 companies, trade associations and nonprofits six-month extensions to make public whether their products contain the chemicals that have been associated with increased risk of kidney cancer, decreased infant and fetal growth, and decreased immunity.

Through landfill leachate, wastewater, land spreading and groundwater contamination, PFAS have found their way into drinking water, plants and animals in Maine and across the country.

To date, the state has rejected four extension requests, all from chemical companies — BASF, Chemours, 3M and 3M Marine, Madore said.

Others questioned whether the state was making it too easy for companies large and small to evade legal requirements that they have known about for 15 months and permit associations to apply for extensions on their members’ behalf.

“I’m really disappointed that this is the direction in which the department is going in terms of granting these extensions,” said Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, who sponsored the PFAS reporting bill, LD 1503. “To me it seems there are parties that are looking to get out of compliance with this law.”

The law requires manufacturers to report to the state the amount of each of the PFAS in their products, and the purpose they serve in the products, including any product components.

Katherine O’Brien, a senior attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental law organization based in California, said she was concerned about the lack of consistent criteria for extensions. The reporting requirements are a critical step toward effectively implementing the state’s ban on PFAS in products by 2030, she said.

“The key concern with the department granting blanket extensions to many or all members of a trade association is whether it is making the required finding that each and every one of those companies qualifies for an extension,” O’Brien said.

The vast majority of entities granted extensions so far are part of marine and boat-related industries. Tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft also were allowed to delay their reporting. Others include a magazine, a nonprofit that cleans up islands and marinas.

While the PFAS reporting law is considered the strictest of its kind in the country, it is not novel, because companies are already required to test for and report a number of other substances to state and federal agencies. Some said industries are using their influence to delay the law’s enforcement to prevent consumers from knowing how much PFAS are in their products.

“The chemical industry does not want to report this information. They do not want people to know whether they are being exposed to this stuff,” said Sarah Woodbury, the director of advocacy for Defend Our Health Action, the advocacy partner for the Portland-based nonprofit Defend Our Health.

Over the past year, several companies and lobbying groups recommended the department grant a blanket extension, but the department told them extensions could only be considered for individual manufacturers, Madore said.

But national lobbying groups have found a way to get large groups of companies approved quickly: listing relevant members in an extension request to the department.

The department has allowed six associations to delay reporting requirements on behalf of their members: the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, National Council of Textile Organizations, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, Motorcycle Industry Council and Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.

Some legislators, such as Rep. H. Sawin Millett Jr., R-Waterford, agreed that manufacturers should be vetted individually.

“Ultimately, it is the manufacturers that we would want to be informing the consumers of any products that might contaminate our resources here in Maine, and I think it’s legitimate to stop there,” Millett said.

But limited resources can affect how agencies enforce a law, said Millett, who has run several state agencies in the past.

“When you have limited resources, you may not be able to enforce it on each manufacturer and every product,” Millett said.

The Department of Environmental Protection has a lack of dedicated staff to develop rulemaking and manage the reporting law’s enforcement, Madore said. There will be no other funding available for the implementation of this program until reporting fees are received, he said.

The BDN reached out to the six lobbying groups and spoke with five that said there isn’t enough time for their members to test their product components to meet the state’s reporting requirement. The National Council of Textile Organizations did not respond to a request for comment.

Gathering the required information could take automakers years, said a spokesperson for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents the manufacturers that produce nearly 98 percent of cars and light trucks in the country.

“Automakers manufacture highly complex consumer goods, containing up to 30,000 individual parts and utilizing up to 10 tiers of suppliers,” the spokesperson said.

The state granted a delay to 20 members of the alliance, including BMW, Ferrari, Ford and General Motors, according to an Oct. 25 letter from the department.

The state also approved a six-month extension to 104 members of the Motorcycle Industry Council, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association and Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.

There is an “extremely short timeline for testing and compliance,” they wrote in a collective request to the department on Sept. 19. The department approved it 10 days later.

Seven entities were confused to hear they were on the state’s list for an extension, and some weren’t sure they were responsible for reporting PFAS because they don’t consider themselves manufacturers.

The state defines a manufacturer as “the person that manufactures a product whose brand name is affixed to the product.” If the product is made outside the U.S., the manufacturer is considered the distributor or importer of a product.

Paul Bowden, who owns Bowden Marine Service, a marine dealership for boats and motors based in Bar Harbor, said he wasn’t aware of, nor had he requested, an extension. He wasn’t sure why he had to report, believing it should be the responsibility of the makers of the products, he said.  

John Hanson, the founder and publisher emeritus of Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors Inc., a Rockland-based magazine, laughed when he heard it made the list of extensions.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Hanson said. “We print the magazine in Burlington, Vermont, and talk to people on telephones, and write things on computers.”

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce said it has been encouraging its members to individually submit requests for extensions.

“This law is far more broad and complicated than anyone anticipated,” said Ben Lucas, the chamber’s lobbyist. “This is going to take a significant amount of time for businesses in Maine to be able to comply with, as we’ve heard from some of our members.”

It appears a wide range of companies will be affected by the law.

“If any entity sells or distributes for sale a product with their brand name on it or that they have assembled from other manufacturers’ components, they could be a manufacturer required to report,” Madore said.

This could include custom built boat equipment, magazines with cosmetic samples and even trail club T-shirts, he said.

A Swiss company, Katadyn Desalination-Spectra Watermakers, said it had never requested an extension individually or through a trade association, and was set to meet the deadline.

The company had been testing its products for the past six months, according to General Manager Abel Nolasco. Nolasco said perhaps a trade association, involved in the marine industry, chose to request for an extension, but the company could find no such paper trail or notification to confirm this was the case.

Mehr Sher is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for this reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.

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Mehr Sher

Mehr Sher reports on the Maine environment. She is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for her reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.