Third-generation dairy farmer Fred Stone pauses before forking up a load of hay for one of the few remaining cows on his spread in Arundel on April 15, 2022. Stone was forced to slaughter most of his herd after finding high levels of "forever chemicals" on his land in 2016. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Lori K. Gramlich, who represents Old Orchard Beach in the Maine House, chairs the Joint Standing Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources. Sarah Woodbury of Freeport is the director of advocacy at Defend Our Health.

Since the discovery of PFAS contamination on Stoneridge Farm in Arundel back in 2016, Maine has been a national leader on combating “forever chemical” contamination. The Maine Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills have taken several important steps to reduce the sources of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, and to provide resources to those affected by contamination.

Maine has led the way, for example, by passing the first-in-the-world ban on non-essential uses of PFAS in products, banning the spreading of PFAS-contaminated sludge on farmland and tackling the issue of PFAS in pesticides. Maine has also committed more than $100 million to investigate the PFAS contamination of soil, water and food and to provide emergency financial assistance and technical help to impacted farm communities and residential well owners.

We have started to hear from industry groups over the past several months that Maine may be moving too fast when it comes to PFAS source reduction. We disagree. The stories of affected farmers and well owners, the loss of livelihoods and the stories about significant and adverse health impacts show that it is long past time to act.

Equally alarming is recent news that PFAS has been detected in groundwater where water is extracted for commercial bottling. Legislation passed last year requires community drinking water systems to test their water supplies for these harmful forever chemicals. However, no such requirements are in place for water bottling companies.

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry recently reported to the Legislature that state agencies have identified more than 50 PFAS-contaminated farms and at least 345 water sources that exceed Maine’s maximum contaminant level for these chemicals in drinking water. The state is still in the process of investigating other possible sites of contamination, so those numbers will likely increase.

PFAS have been shown to contribute to many health problems, including kidney cancer, liver disease, thyroid disorders, testicular cancer and reduced efficacy of vaccines. These are serious health impacts that we cannot ignore.

The very industries that utilize these dangerous toxic chemicals are trying to scare Mainers into thinking that we won’t have access to products that we need, and that the regulation of PFAS in pesticides will somehow negatively impact Maine farmers. These arguments discount the real harm that has been inflicted on Mainers across the state, particularly our farmers.

It also implies that Maine is the only state that is passing policies to phase out these toxic chemicals. That, too, is false. While Maine has blazed the trail, we are not the only state to take action to ban the use of these toxic chemicals. For instance, California has banned the use of PFAS in juvenile products, apparel and cosmetics. Colorado has banned their use in oil and gas products and juvenile products, among other things. Washington state has given its department broad authority to take action on consumer products that are a significant source of PFAS.

As we start the new legislative session, we are already seeing attempts to weaken or overturn laws recently passed to protect Mainers from these dangerous toxic chemicals. We must resist attempts to roll back the good work that we have completed thus far. We must continue to advance health protective policies to safeguard against these dangerous toxic chemicals, both in the products we use on a daily basis and in our drinking water. We need to ensure that our state agencies have the staff and resources they need to continue to address this pervasive problem. And, we must ensure that those who are responsible for this pollution are held accountable.

For the health and safety of all Mainers, we must continue to lead.