Maine outlaws PFAS in products with pioneering law

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Health and environmental groups hail law, say first in the nation
  • Products containing PFAS to be outlawed in 2030

(Reuters) - Maine legislators passed a law Thursday that bans toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in nearly all products by 2030, a move environmentalists said is the first such legislation by a U.S. state.

The law, adopted as an emergency measure to immediately protect public health, mandates that on Jan. 1, 2030, "a person may not sell, offer for sale or distribute for sale" in Maine products where PFAS has been "intentionally added" except in cases of "unavoidable use."

It also mandates that effective on Jan. 1, 2023, manufacturers of products for sale in the state that contain the chemical notify state authorities.

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The American Chemistry Council industry body in a statement called the measure a "misguided law" that "could hurt Maine families and small businesses" by banning products they rely on.

PFAS, nicknamed "forever chemicals" because they don't break down easily, have been associated with various illnesses including kidney cancer. They have been used for decades in household products such as nonstick cookware, stain- and water-resistant textiles, rugs, food packaging, photo-imaging and in industrial products. Many states have already outlawed their use in food packaging.

The new law comes amid renewed efforts to phase out the substance, with the Biden administration seeking funding to clean up PFAS-contaminated industrial sites and to conduct research on the chemical's effects.

It was sponsored by state House Representative Lori Gramlich, a Democrat who represents Old Orchard Beach in the state's south. Gramlich told Reuters: "PFAS is at a crisis level here in Maine - it's in the soil, groundwater and household items, and it is making people severely sick."

Because it was voted as an emergency measure, passage of the bill required two-thirds of the state's House of Representatives members and of its Senate in order to pass. It did not require the state's governor's signature.

The measure passed with 121 state House lawmakers voting in favor and two casting votes against it while 28 were absent.

Portland, Maine-based environmental health group Defend Our Health hailed the law in a statement, saying it "provides a national model for policymakers to eliminate all but the 'essential' uses of PFAS in products."

The exemption allows for uses for critical products such as medical devices, it said.

Last week, Maine also restricted with a separate law the use of PFAS-containing fire-fighting foam that is typically used on oil rigs and at airports.

Lawsuits over PFAS have multiplied in recent years, partly the result of a 2017 $671 million settlement in which DuPont and Chemours Co agreed to settle thousands of lawsuits involving a leak of perfluorooctanoic acid, a compound that is part of the PFAS family. States from New York to Ohio and Vermont have sued the manufacturers of PFAS over alleged harm to public health and the environment.

Environmental Protection Agency head Michael Regan called in April for the creation of a "council on PFAS" that will be charged with reducing their risk.

(NOTE: This story has been updated with a comment from state House Representative Gramlich.)

Read more:

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.