Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Whether or not companies will get more time to make public if they have toxic “forever chemicals” in their products is up for debate this legislative session.

As of Jan. 1, companies had to report to the state the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in their products. Companies have known about this legal requirement — the first of its kind in the country — for more than a year and a half, and many started testing product components months ago to meet the deadline.

But at an energy and environmental forum on Thursday, some said the business community has found it unworkable to comply with the law due to a lack of laboratory capacity and the time it takes to test product components. There are currently no laboratories in Maine accredited to analyze samples for PFAS, so businesses must rely on out-of-state laboratories.

Some lawmakers, however, believe that requiring companies to reveal whether there are PFAS in their products sold in Maine is an important step to work toward the state’s goal of banning PFAS in products by 2030.

“It is appropriate to put pressure on everyone to participate in the reporting of PFAS in their products,” said Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, at E2Tech’s 131st Maine Legislature Energy and Environmental Preview panel discussion in Augusta on Thursday.

At the event, lawmakers and stakeholders debated legislative priorities on environmental and energy issues, including PFAS, renewable energy, air emissions, net energy billing and energy storage.

While the new law to mandate that companies report the PFAS in their products will likely get another look by the Maine Legislature this legislative session, it’s not yet known how it would be amended. Twenty different PFAS-related bills have been proposed this session but not yet fleshed out.

In October, the Bangor Daily News reported that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection had granted six-month extensions to 1,010 companies, trade associations and nonprofits after requests from lobbying groups. The lobbying groups succeeded in getting approval for scores of their members, some of whom had already submitted their PFAS information and didn’t need an extension.

Since then, the department has granted more extensions for a total of more than 2,000 entities.

Brenner didn’t discuss the approved extensions, but she said PFAS assessment is a top priority for the Legislature’s environment and natural resources committee, of which she is co-chair. The state has spent $100 million to address the effects of PFAS and implement new regulations so far, Brenner said.

Brenner spoke on a panel with Rep. Dick Campbell, R-Orrington; Pete Didisheim, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine; and Ben Lucas, a lobbyist for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Small businesses are finding it challenging and costly to test their products, Campbell said. He knows of a small business that had to pay $10,000, he said.

PFAS contamination is a crucial issue, Campbell said, but people are only starting to understand the health effects of the chemicals, and complying with the new requirements will take more time.

“Many states are looking at us to see how we handle this in a way that’s responsible,” he said about the mandatory PFAS reporting law.

PFAS chemicals have been associated with serious illnesses, such as increased risk of kidney cancer, decreased infant and fetal growth, and decreased immunity. They are a group of thousands of human-made chemicals that accumulate in the environment, food chain and people’s bodies when consumed.

The chamber, which represents Maine businesses, wants to be a part of the solution, Lucas said. But it also believes it has been challenging for companies to comply with the new requirement, he said.

“We don’t have the laboratory capacity or the technology to test for all of this, and the business community needs more time to comply with this law,” Lucas said.

He spoke to a business with hundreds of products to test, and the closest laboratory it found was in Pennsylvania, where it would take seven to eight months to get results, Lucas said.

Companies are looking for ways to replace PFAS in everyday, essential products, but it will take time, he said.

The state has been working to increase laboratory capacity to test for the chemicals, Brenner said. The Legislature has allocated funds in the state budget to increase testing capacity.

“Maine will have two new labs this year, and one will be considered for health monitoring as well, such as blood tests,” she said.

She agreed that rules could be improved for small businesses, but she also noted that concern from the business community at large is about having to report the toxic chemicals at all.

Others believe companies and businesses need to act quicker to comply with the law to report and eventually eliminate the use of intentionally added PFAS in products.

“There is nothing wrong with being first in the nation if the rest of the country isn’t moving forward on this,” Didisheim said.

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.