AUGUSTA — State environmental regulators are moving forward with a proposal to begin requiring that manufacturers disclose when they use a particular “forever chemical” in clothing, cookware and other household goods sold in Maine.

Lawmakers passed a bill this year that would make Maine one of the first states to phase out the usage of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – collectively known as PFAS – in food packaging starting in 2022 or once safer alternatives are readily available. Used for decades to create water- or grease-repellent surfaces, these so-called “forever chemicals” linger in the environment and human body for long periods and have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

But the Department of Environmental Protection is also pursuing a separate track targeting one variety of the chemicals, PFOS, in products sold in Maine. While PFOS is no longer manufactured in the United States because of its health impacts, the chemical is still used in products made overseas and sold in this country.

Listing as a “priority chemical,” as proposed by the DEP, would not prohibit manufacturers from using PFOS in products. But it would require manufacturers to disclose to the DEP what products contain the chemical, the concentration levels, the function of the chemical additive and whether the product is small enough to fit in a child’s mouth.

On Wednesday, DEP staff will present the proposal to members of the Board of Environmental Protection and request a 30-day public comment period on the proposed rules. The board could then vote on the rules later this year or early next year.

In a memo supporting the designation, staff at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention wrote that there is “strong credible scientific evidence that PFOS is a reproductive toxicant and continues to meet the toxicity criteria for listing” as a priority chemical under the DEP rules.

“While national biomonitoring data suggest a decreasing trend in PFOS (blood) serum levels, it continues to be detected in adults and children in the U.S.,” CDC staff wrote in the memo. “Additionally, multiple studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature were identified that found PFOS through sampling and analysis to be present in household indoor dust. These findings continue to provide strong credible scientific evidence that PFOS is present in the human body and household environment.”

If adopted, the rules would apply to clothing, footwear, cookware, plates and utensils, toys, cosmetics and personal care products, electronics, crafts and furniture or household furnishings.

Maine already has designated eight chemical classes – including phthalates, formaldehyde and several types of flame retardants – as “priority chemicals” under a 2008 law that aimed to reduce children’s potential exposure to toxic substances in consumer products. In the case of one of those chemicals, bisphenol-A, state regulators went a step further by prohibiting the sale in Maine of reusable food and beverage containers or baby food packaging containing BPA.

The class of chemicals known as PFAS, meanwhile, is coming under intense scrutiny at the state and federal level. In Maine, PFAS from firefighting foam has contaminated former military sites such as the Brunswick Naval Air Station and has been found in municipal sludge used as farm fertilizer.

Later Wednesday, a task force created by Gov. Janet Mills will meet in Augusta to continue discussing PFAS contamination in Maine. Among the topics on the task force’s agenda are discussions of PFAS sampling in fish tissues, toxicity and risk posed by the chemicals and strategies for improving public education about the chemicals.

The task force is expected to submit a report to the governor and Legislature by early next year outlining steps for addressing PFAS contamination and ways to reduce future exposure to the chemicals.

 


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