Maine lawmakers issue a series of bills to tackle pollution from ‘forever chemicals’

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Maine lawmakers have handed a sizable series of bills to tackle the rising issues brought on by “forever chemicals” which have shut down a number of farms and contaminated dozens of personal wells throughout the state.

While a number of bills await funding selections or the signature of Governor Janet Mills, Democratic and Republican lawmakers despatched this legislative session a clear sign that Maine should act aggressively towards PFAS pollution slightly than anticipate federal motion. Bills handed with broad, usually unanimous help would set one of the nation’s strictest limits on PFAS pollution in consuming water, ban unsupervised testing of PFAS-laced extinguishing foam and lift hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to detect and clear up pollution .

“We really need to anticipate this and recognize that we don’t know the magnitude of the problem,” mentioned Senator Rick Bennett, an Oxford Republican who co-sponsored some of the bills. “But what the legislature was doing was giving the administration all the tools… to deal with this as quickly as possible.”

Nicknamed “forever chemicals” as a result of of their persistence within the surroundings and the our bodies, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been used for many years in a wide selection of client items, together with non-stick cookware, water or stain repellents, and greaseproof meals packaging. Some compounds have been linked to severe well being issues, together with most cancers, kidney failure and immune system suppression.

On Monday, Mills signed a invoice that will set a restrict of 20 components per trillion for six varieties of PFAS in consuming water. While not as stringent because the requirements adopted or thought-about in a few different states, the 20 components per trillion degree for the six compounds is considerably decrease than the federal authorities’s present “advisory level” of 70 components per trillion for 2 compounds. .

The invoice, LD 129, would additionally require all public water utilities, in addition to faculties and nurseries that use personal wells, to start testing for PFAS by the tip of subsequent 12 months and take steps to reinstate any elevated ranges.

Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Defend Our Health group that has been energetic on PFAS points for years, identified that prior to the brand new legislation, water that will have been thought-about poisonous in Massachusetts, Vermont and different states can be protected. are thought-about to be drink in Maine.

MacRoy mentioned that invoice, together with others — together with one that will require the state to check lots of of websites for PFAS contamination — represents a vital step ahead. The problem, MacRoy mentioned, will probably be getting funding and implementing the packages.

“Obviously it takes time and effort, and we’re not out of the woods,” he mentioned. “We now have the instruments to determine points and tackle these points, however there are extra websites that may show to be contaminated and want to be addressed. … It positively strikes Maine ahead and aligns us with different states which are making a lot of progress.

For years, PFAS contamination was largely thought-about a situation that primarily impacts areas round army bases and airports the place firefighting foams have been examined or used to combat the extraordinary fires created by burning gas. But extra just lately, Maine has obtained nationwide consideration over the potential for PFAS contamination in agricultural manure containing sludge or paper mill waste.

The proprietor of a dairy farm in Arundel, Fred Stone, testified a number of occasions earlier than state legislators over a number of years about how his multi-generational farm was ruined by the invention of PFAS in water, soil and his cow’s milk. Stone linked the contamination to handled municipal sludge or probably paper mill ash that he used for years as fertilizer for his crops by means of a state-approved “biosolids” program.

Last 12 months, state regulators discovered PFAS ranges greater than 150 occasions larger than the state’s milk commonplace at a Fairfield dairy farm that additionally unfold sludge as fertilizer for years. Since then, greater than 60 personal wells in Fairfield, Benton, Unity and Oakland — all close to fields which have obtained biosolids — have been proven to comprise unsafe ranges of PFAS.

Many of these owners, some of whom have been consuming water containing 300 to 400 occasions extra PFAS than the federal well being advisory degree, this 12 months pleaded with lawmakers to tighten Maine’s requirements and provides owners extra time to sue accountable events. Another invoice handed by the legislature and sitting on Mills’ desk, LD 363, would prolong the statute of limitations to six years after the invention of the contamination.

Mills has made PFAS a excessive precedence of her administration, beginning with the creation of a activity pressure whose suggestions have served as the idea for a lot of of the bills handed by lawmakers this 12 months. The governor additionally really useful spending $40 million within the present funds to assist farmers affected by PFAS, clear up contaminated websites and supply affected owners with protected consuming water.

It is the legislature’s funds writing and monetary affairs committee that in the end decides how to distribute the almost $1 billion in extra cash anticipated to move into the state treasury this funds cycle. Several PFAS-related bills at the moment are on the “credit table” pending funding selections.

Such a measure, LD 1600, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would require it to check soil and groundwater at any website that obtained sludge or septic waste earlier than 2019. The invoice would additionally create a land use contaminant monitoring fund to cowl these testing and monitoring prices, however has an estimated price of $3.6 million yearly.

Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, sponsored that invoice in addition to two different key PFAS-related measures pending funding selections: LD 1503, which might permit DEP to ban the sale of merchandise containing “deliberately added” PFAS, and LD 1505, which ought to report firefighting foam containing PFAS and prohibit the testing of such foam except the fabric is collected for correct disposal.

Gramlich mentioned she is delighted the bills have obtained such sturdy bipartisan help, which she attributed to the issue now affecting individuals throughout the state. Gramlich mentioned she is “encouraged but cautiously optimistic” concerning the destiny of the bills within the funds course of.

“I’m confident,” she mentioned. “I know they work very hard… but the fact that we had such strong bipartisan support from the committee positions us well.”

Both Gramlich, a Democrat who represents the southern coast of Maine, and Bennett, a Republican who represents rural Western Maine, mentioned lawmakers on each side of the aisle are recognizing the function the state performs in granting permits and selling the use of biosolids as fertilizers. Both mentioned the state has a ethical obligation to take care of the ensuing contamination.

“It was the state that encouraged the spread of sludge on farmland, and I think we share a deep responsibility to reduce this,” Bennett mentioned. “Human lives have been uprooted and it has been tremendously devastating.”

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