When it comes to the “forever chemicals” polluting our water it seems that change has to be forced. The Environmental Protection Agency, after a lot of dilly-dallying, has just taken an important step to force that change.

Awareness of the risks posed by the per- and polyfluorinated substances collectively known as PFAS – certain cancers, disruption to immune, metabolic and endocrine systems, infertility, unhealthy babies, cardiovascular disease – hasn’t been enough, in many quarters, to move the needle.

As we reported yesterday, the EPA has just proposed national drinking water standards that are more strict than anything Maine, one of the most strict states in the country, has put in place so far.

“The science is clear that long-term exposure to PFAS is linked to significant health risks,” an EPA spokesperson said Tuesday. If enforced later this year or early next, the new standards will force water providers to filter drinking water – or find new water sources altogether. The EPA estimates its rule could reduce PFAS exposure for nearly 100 million Americans. Good.

It’s not that Maine has been entirely asleep at the wheel: Our current “interim” safety standard for six types of PFAS in water, at 20 parts per trillion, is regarded as stringent. Once the presence of PFAS dips below 4 parts per trillion, it cannot be reliably detected by a lab; that 4 parts per trillion threshold is what the EPA now has in its sights for two of the six.

In terms of testing, it’s as close to zero as it gets and, as this editorial board said last August when it called for state statute to err heavily on the side of public health and safety, zero is the level we have to aspire to.


Whether or not the EPA pushes its proposed rules through, the latest determination is extremely meaningful. It sends a message to the many states that have been taking their time on the question. Ideally, it also shuts down calls for more time or lenience on manufacturers and other corporations.

Concerns that Maine will not be financially supportive enough of a changing regulatory landscape should be assuaged by the repeated commitments by Gov. Janet Mills to tackling PFAS contamination, which, she noted in her February budget address, is “devastating many communities in Maine – forcing some schools to switch to bottled water, leaving farmers in financial shambles, and fishermen and hunters questioning whether the wildlife they harvest might be contaminated.”

The Mills administration invested $100 million in PFAS-related measures in the past two years. The EPA itself is expected to release billions more in funding dedicated to mitigation and prevention in the coming years.

As well as getting serious about water, there’s a prevention task here. Despite the fact that Maine has made significant strides, the process of following the latest research has been beset by concerns to do with costs to business. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups last year sought a stay on enforcement of new PFAS reporting requirements, saying it would have a “massive impact” on members. No kidding.

Writing in these pages, Adam Nordell, a farmer who lost his livelihood to PFAS, responded to the chamber position: “When I hear the phrase ‘massive impact,’ I think about farmland that cannot be safely farmed and about losing my business to industrial chemical contamination.”

Nordell continued: “I think about public school water supplies contaminated and the hundreds of drinking water wells across the state that have been poisoned by these chemicals. I think about the families that have relied on those wells for years and slowly built up a toxic body burden that will take the better part of a lifetime to flush out. May we all live long enough to be PFAS-free.”

The EPA determination helps Maine in this urgent quest.

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