A new law went into effect three months ago requiring businesses to report to the state whether their products contain forever chemicals, or PFAS. But the rollout has been slow because the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is still developing the reporting requirements for entities selling products in the state.
The implementation of the new law has been delayed due to a lack of resources and dedicated staff, Mark Margerum, who works in the office of the commissioner at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, told lawmakers on Wednesday.
While the state is still developing rules for how the PFAS-in-products program will work, lawmakers are simultaneously proposing changes to further delay the mandatory reporting largely due to concerns from businesses.
“The comments we’ve received from industries and the environmental community have been hard to deal with, especially within the resources we have,” Margerum told the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
So far, only 60 companies have complied with the law, which went into effect Jan. 1, and reported PFAS in their products, he said. Since October, the department has granted six-month extensions to more than 2,500 companies.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals that are used in many different products — including carpets, nonstick cookware and firefighting foams — for their water-, heat- and grease-resistant properties. But it’s rarely known which specific items contain the compounds, which have been linked to serious health conditions such as kidney cancer, because disclosure has not been required until now.
While it is more likely that people will experience long-term harm from ingesting PFAS, rather than wearing a water-resistant coat, a large point of the law passed in 2021 was to prepare Maine for a ban on PFAS in products. By 2030, any product containing intentionally added PFAS may not be sold in Maine unless the state determines that the use of the chemicals is unavoidable.
Margerum said the department is still determining who should be reporting PFAS in products, such as whether it should be a manufacturer, importer or brand. It is also working with Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse, a Boston-based association of state, local and tribal governments, to develop an online reporting system for companies to easily submit their findings and for the department to collect the data.
The reporting requirements may not be finalized until later this summer, he said. The department is currently accepting comments until May 19. After that, it has 120 days to review the comments and come back to the committee to make a final decision on the rulemaking.
Several bills proposing to amend the statute were debated Wednesday.
Sen. Henry Ingwersen, D-Arundel, sponsored a bill, LD 1537, that would provide additional funding for two positions and expenses related to the implementation of the statute. It would also delay the reporting deadline for PFAS in products until Oct. 1 and exempt manufacturers with less than $20 million in national annual sales from reporting.
Other lawmakers want to support the business community by giving them two years to comply with the reporting requirements. Rep. Dick Campbell, R-Orrington, is sponsoring a bill to delay the reporting requirement until January 2025.
Sarah Woodbury, director of advocacy for Portland-based Defend Our Health, said she understands it is taking longer for businesses to determine whether PFAS are in their products due to lab turnaround times and other constraints, such as getting information from suppliers. But delaying mandatory reporting until 2025 would be unreasonable.
“LD 1537 delays reporting until October of this year, and that is a more reasonable timeframe,” Woodbury said.
Some legislators said a ban on PFAS in products will affect local, national and international business in Maine, with some companies choosing not to sell their products to avoid the reporting requirements.
Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, are also sponsoring a bill to delay the reporting requirement. They want to push the deadline to January 2024 and for the state to determine specific products with PFAS that would be banned, rather than a full ban.
“We want this law to be successful, and businesses need to be able to reasonably comply and also do business in the state,” Baldacci said.
“We are vehemently opposed to Senator Baldacci’s bill, and it basically guts the products ban, regardless of how he’s spinning it,” Woodbury said. “The bill as it has been drafted is nothing but a giveaway to the industry.”
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.