They’ve been found in our milk and drinking water. They’re being dumped into our rivers. Hundreds of Maine properties are contaminated.

It seems almost every day we read another story about how toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoralkyl substances) pollution is being found across Maine. Used for non-stick coatings, these chemicals spread quickly in air and water, and don’t break down in the environment – hence the moniker “forever chemicals.” Scientists have found they have health effects at shockingly low levels, including interfering with our immune systems, harming children’s development and causing cancers.

In Maine, Gov. Mills appointed a task force to help identify the scope of and potential solutions to the PFAS crisis in our state. Its recommendations will be finalized by December, and there will be no shortage of work for our state agencies to address the problem – including testing farms that received PFAS-contaminated sludge as fertilizer.

But our state government should not be in this fight alone. The federal government must also step up to protect children and families from these dangerous chemicals. And Maine’s congressional delegation is uniquely situated to help spur federal action.

Both U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden are members of the National Defense Authorization Act conference committee, which is considering crucial bipartisan reforms to tackle the nationwide PFAS crisis. And Sen. Susan Collins can use her considerable sway with Senate leadership to help ensure that the PFAS provisions remain part of the final legislation.

It’s long past time to act. Despite the known health risks, there are currently no federal limits on releases of these forever chemicals. Nor are there any federal requirements to clean up PFAS contamination

This means that military and civilian firefighters are still using PFAS firefighting foams, which slowly seep into drinking water supplies despite the availability of effective alternatives. Because these fluorinated foams have been used for decades, hundreds of military installations, including some in Maine, are badly contaminated. And the lack of regulation means that despite the widely known health risks, manufacturers continue to discharge PFAS into the air and water.

The result? Nearly 500 industrial facilities nationwide are suspected of releasing PFAS chemicals to the air and water, but these manufacturers are not subject to any environmental or reporting requirements. Although New Hampshire and several other states have begun to set drinking water standards, there is no federal or state requirement for water utilities to remove PFAS from Maine drinking water.

Because PFAS haven’t been designated “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law, manufacturers are not even required to clean up PFAS contamination – even though companies like 3M and DuPont produced and knowingly released toxic PFAS chemicals for decades. Affected landowners, like Arundel dairy farmer Fred Stone, are unable to access federal and state resources for toxic cleanup. The Defense Department has cited the absence of a “hazardous substance” designation to delay cleanup of its own contamination sites.

To address these gaps, both the House and Senate passed versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 that include critical PFAS reforms. This “must pass” legislation to fund our armed services is an appropriate vehicle for address the problems with PFAS given the heavy use and pollution at military bases, and the resulting health risks faced by our soldiers, veterans and their families. Since the House and Senate bills differ, a conference committee was formed to negotiate the final legislation. Despite bipartisan support in both bodies for addressing PFAS, however, recent comments from Senate Republicans suggest the PFAS reforms may be left out.

To ensure that Maine gets the necessary federal support to tackle this crisis, as members of the conference committee both Golden and King should work to ensure that all the protective PFAS provisions – especially its inclusion on the Superfund list – are in the final NDAA bill. And Maine needs Collins to use her political power to protect our farms and drinking water from toxic PFAS pollution by persuading Senate leadership to keep these reforms in the final bill.

The state of Maine is doing its part to start to address the PFAS pollution problem. Now our congressional delegation must help ensure that the federal government joins Maine in moving toward solutions.


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