Maine Chamber, trade groups ask for delay in forever chemicals reporting law

·5 min read

Jul. 21—The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, along with other business and trade organizations, is asking state officials to delay the implementation of a new law that requires manufacturers to report the presence of intentionally added PFAS, or forever chemicals, in their products.

In a letter to Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection last month, the chamber and other groups asked for a one-year extension of the law, which is currently scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1.

The law, passed in July 2021, will phase out and then eventually ban the chemicals by 2030. The law contains an exception for cases where companies can demonstrate there are no alternatives.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of thousands of chemicals that have been used for decades in a vast array of consumer goods, including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and fabrics, waterproof clothing and grease-resistant food packaging.

They have been linked to a host of health problems, including cancer, kidney malfunction and immune system suppression.

The chemicals, called forever chemicals because of how long they take to break down, are turning up in well water across the state at levels 300 to 400 times higher than the federal health advisory level. State and federal officials and environmental and public health advocates have been working to eliminate PFAS in food packaging and other products, and have been setting limits on the level of contaminants allowed in drinking water and soil.

The reporting law is just one of many designed to mitigate their continued impact, but members of the business community say the ubiquity of the chemicals will make it difficult to comply, particularly with a tight turnaround time.

Environmental advocates, though, say the businesses should know what's in their products already.

The law was passed a year ago, but DEP only started rulemaking last month.

"The impact of the reporting deadline constrained within that bill will impact millions of products and thousands of companies who are based in Maine, do business in Maine or sell products into the Maine marketplace," they wrote. The groups include the Manufacturers Association of Maine and the Maine Farm Bureau, among others.

The delay in rulemaking makes it impossible for companies to comply since they don't know what will be required, they said.

They believe the rulemaking delay could also lead to a disadvantage for Maine businesses.

"This could lead to a scenario where companies acting in good faith do report to the best of their ability, while other companies who are not aware of the requirements do not report," they wrote. "Those companies reporting, expected to mostly be Maine based, may then be highlighted for their products that do indeed contain PFAS, regardless of whether or not such products are an 'unavoidable use.' "

Those companies that are acting in good faith and trying to prepare early are running into difficulties with suppliers whose products are protected by intellectual property, they wrote. Suppliers won't release that information unless they are legally ensured that their intellectual property is protected.

The American Chemistry Council, along with other manufacturers, sent a similar letter a week later with the same request.

The law, the chemistry council said, will have a "broad impact on nearly every sector of the economy," and manufacturers need more time to comply with the submission requirements.

These businesses currently don't fully understand how to comply with a broad mandate that has few details about what information is required and how to submit it, they wrote.

But Sarah Woodbury, director of advocacy for Defend Our Health, said it's "disingenuous" for manufacturers to claim they don't know what they need to do.

The bill, which Defend Our Health helped draft, passed over a year ago, so the industry has known what's coming, she said, calling the extension request frustrating.

Companies should really know what's in their products, Woodbury said.

"They're basically implying they don't know what they're selling," she said, "To request this deadline is telling the general public that they have no idea how toxic their products are."

Ben Lucas, government relations specialist for the state chamber of commerce, said it's not that simple.

There are over 9,000 PFAS that exist, he said. It isn't just a single chemical; there are thousands of different chemical compounds.

Some businesses have over 10,000 products that will need to be tested, he said. There are companies that sell in all 50 states — it will take them a significant amount of time to find the data on what they sell in Maine and then figure out which products may or may not have intentionally added PFAS and then report the figures.

"It's simply going to take a lot of time," he said, adding that given the delay in rulemaking, the year-long extension is "only fair."

Woodbury agreed that the reporting requirements will take a great deal of work.

"It's going to be a lift for them, there is no doubt about that," she said. "But we're big on transparency, we think the public deserves to know what we're buying."

David Madore, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the department is evaluating the request.

During the department's first stakeholder meeting June 30, the department requested input from participants by July 18, including potential criteria for evaluating extension requests, he said. The department will consider these responses before reaching a decision about the request.