Sara Dunne, the technical director for Maine Laboratories in Norridgewock, demonstrates how samples are tested for PFAS. Credit: Mehr Sher / BDN

Maine led the nation in launching a law requiring manufacturers to disclose PFAS in products sold in the state, but the January implementation has been pushed back two years as environmental regulators remain understaffed and work to clarify reporting rules.

The Legislature and governor passed a law in June that extended the Jan. 1 deadline requiring manufacturers of products sold in Maine containing PFAS to report them. Now they have until January 2025. The Legislature’s bill also created two reporting exemptions. One is for businesses employing 25 or fewer people and another for a used product or component.

The Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee plans to hold additional meetings later this year, possibly leading to another bill with further amendments in 2024. In the meantime, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has suspended rulemaking for how and what manufacturers report about their use of PFAS in products sold in Maine, Mark Margerum, project manager for PFAS, said.

“As the Legislature has delayed the implementation of this program until 2025, the department has not yet developed the online reporting system planned for this program,” Margerum said.

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals used in products from water-repellent clothing to nonstick cookware and some cosmetics. The chemicals have water-, heat- and grease-resistant properties. The so-called “forever chemicals” break down slowly in the environment and are linked to health issues including kidney cancer.

Until recently, manufacturers have not had to disclose which products contain PFAS. In January, Maine became the first state in the nation to require that reporting. Maine’s sweeping law would also effectively ban PFAS in most products sold in the state by 2030.

Minnesota floated a similar law earlier this year banning the sale of certain products with PFAS that also will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2025.

Before suspending its rulemaking, the department had received 64 preliminary  reports so far with varying information, according to documents obtained by the Bangor Daily News. They are mostly from national and international companies including Duracell, Kohl’s and WEG Electric Motors. But the reports submitted were in various formats with different levels of information and included various claims of confidentiality, Margerum said.

The department had also approved 2,700 filing extensions as of Jan. 1.

So far the guidance for companies reporting PFAS asks them to submit a brief description of the product, the estimated number of units sold annually in Maine or nationally, the purpose of PFAS in the product, the amount of each PFAS and contact information for the manufacturer.

More guidance from the DEP would be welcomed, said Sarah Woodbury, director of advocacy for Defend Our Health, a Portland-based group that works to get rid of toxic chemicals in the environment. Woodbury testified last year in favor of the law to report and limit PFAS. Her group plans to work closely with the state on reporting guidance for companies that is feasible for them and protects public health.

“We’ve been working closely with the [Legislature’s] committee chairs and the chambers of commerce to make sure everybody’s voices are heard and that we come up with a process that gets us the information we want and need to make sure that public health is protected,” she said.

Woodbury said the rulemaking should have been done by January, but it was not for a variety of reasons, including the DEP needing more staff devoted to PFAS. The department still needs to come up with a process and what industry needs to report to it, she said.

Several business groups, including the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern in May in comments solicited by the DEP about how the reporting should be implemented. The law and draft rules for filing reports touch nearly every sector of Maine’s economy, and chamber members are concerned about being able to comply with the requirements and how much it will cost to have their products tested for PFAS, Deb Neuman, president of the chamber, said in written testimony to the environmental department.

In the case of C&L Aviation Group in Bangor, she said, the FAA must approve every product and component that goes into an aircraft, and service and maintenance operations are limited to manufacturers’ manuals, which dictate what products the company uses and how.

“Federally regulated products and product components that may have intentionally added PFAS cannot simply be switched for products that do not,” she said, “Maine’s PFAS laws could potentially impact relationships with manufacturers and negatively affect Maine’s global supply chain if they have no other choice than to stop doing business with Maine companies.”

Other companies, including L.L. Bean, have commitments to eliminate products with PFAS. The DEP granted the Freeport clothing and outdoors equipment retailer a report extension, although the company committed to removing PFAS from its labeled products by the end of 2024. It also announced a $150,000 endowment last week to the University of Maine to establish a solutions research program to help remove and destroy PFAS in soil and water using nanotechnology.

“We recognize PFAS is an urgent threat to our environment that requires collective action,” said Shawn Gorman, executive chairman of the retailer.

Lori Valigra is an environment reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She may be reached at Support for this reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...