Maine to Study Toxic “Forever” Chemicals

A new task force will evaluate PFAS pollution and recommend ways to protect public health.

Nonstick pans are among the everyday household products made with toxic PFAS chemicals.

Nonstick pans are among the industrial and household products made with toxic PFAS chemicals, which endanger our health and environment. Photo: Sujik Pompetch via Shutterstock

In a move welcomed by advocates for safe and clean drinking water, Governor Janet Mills has established a task force to assess the scope of PFAS exposure and contamination in Maine. The task force will study the risks of these toxic chemicals to Mainers and our environment and recommend ways to address them most effectively.

Science has shown that PFAS chemicals may increase the risk of cancer, inhibit growth and learning in children, and interrupt thyroid function, among other devastating health impacts. These chemicals pose an imminent danger because they are widely used in everyday household products today and have already contaminated water sources in Maine. CLF and our partners have been pushing for the State to address this urgent threat, and this task force is a step in the right direction.

New Task Force Will Study PFAS Risks to Our Health and Environment

The new PFAS Task Force is comprised of the Commissioners of four agencies, including the Departments of Environmental Protection and Health and Human Services. It will be rounded out by a public health physician and representatives from a Maine-based nonprofit, the pulp and paper industry, and a state-based association of water supply and treatment professionals.

The task force will be reviewing information concerning known PFAS contamination in Maine – which includes Houlton and Sanford, among others – and the status of response strategies for those sites. It also will identify gaps in the State’s knowledge about these chemicals and look at various treatment and disposal options for them. Finally, the task force will recommend opportunities for educating the public about contamination.

The task force has been directed to complete its work “as soon as reasonably practicable,” and CLF is urging it to do so expeditiously, to avoid further contamination and health impacts. The administration will then take up those recommendations and decide which, if any, to implement.

This is important work, and CLF and our allies will be engaging with the task force as it does its work, which may include conducting studies, holding public hearings, considering public comment, and consulting with outside experts.

We are encouraged that the Mills administration is taking this on, especially since the Environmental Protection Agency has abdicated its responsibility to urgently address this widespread chemical pollution at the federal level. Because the science is clear: These chemicals pose a grave threat to our health and our environment.

The Continuing Risks Posed by PFAS

Nearly every day, we hear another report about the harmful health impacts of PFAS, including here in Maine. A dairy farm in Arundel is just the latest example. The farm can no longer sell its milk due to extensive PFAS contamination from treated sludge waste spread over its pastures decades ago as fertilizer.

Scientific studies show that PFAS may adversely affect growth, learning, and behavior in infants and children, as well as make it more difficult for a woman to get pregnant. PFAS may interfere with natural human hormones and the immune system, increase cholesterol, and disrupt liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function. Researchers also suspect that some PFAS may increase the risk of cancer.

What’s more, these chemicals stay in our bloodstreams and our environment for decades – which is why they are often referred to as “forever” chemicals.

Despite the known danger these toxic chemicals pose, they are used widely in products many of us rely on every day – nonstick cookware, food wrappers, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics and some firefighting foams. Such widespread use can cause PFAS contamination in drinking water, groundwater, and surface water.

That’s why CLF and our allies have been pushing the State of Maine and every New England state to take action by establishing rules and standards for PFAS levels in drinking water that are protective of human health.

Learn More about PFAS at Upcoming Film Screening

You can learn more about the real and immediate health threats posed by PFAS by joining us at a screening of “The Devil We Know.” This documentary details the battle a group of citizens waged against a powerful corporation that dumped toxic PFAS into the local water supply. We’ll follow up the film with a panel discussion with CLF, Toxics Action Center, and the Environmental Health Strategy Center. Please spread the word and join us at 6:00 PM on April 10, 2019, at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. To learn more about the screening and to register to attend, please click here.

And, be sure to stay tuned for more ways that you can help push Maine to address this urgent threat to our health and our environment.

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.