A legislative committee voted unanimously Wednesday to require that manufacturers notify Maine environmental regulators about products containing PFAS, and to ban the sale of carpeting and fabric treatment containing the “forever chemicals.”

Democrats and Republicans on the Legislature’s Environmental and Natural Resources Committee voted 10-0 to endorse the bill roughly an hour before Gov. Janet Mills proposed devoting $40 million to test, manage and respond to PFAS contamination in Maine.

Taken together, the legislative and executive actions signal growing bipartisan support for addressing toxic chemicals that are being found in farm fields and drinking water wells around the state.

“It’s just stunning to me just how much cost and pain we’ve inflicted on so many people around the state,” said Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, referring to a state-sanctioned sludge reuse program linked to PFAS contamination. “I think we have a moral obligation to deal with this as state officials. And I think the DEP has a moral obligation, frankly, to do this as aggressively as possible.”

First developed in the 1940s, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances make up a class of thousands of chemicals that are widely used in nonstick cookware, water- or stain-resistant textiles, grease-resistant food packaging and firefighting foam. But PFAS linger in the body and the environment and these so-called “forever chemicals” have been linked to cancer, kidney disease, low birthweight and a growing list of health concerns.

One of the bills that received committee endorsement Wednesday, L.D. 1503, would require manufacturers to notify the Department of Environmental Protection beginning in January 2023 if products sold in Maine contain “intentionally added PFAS.” The bill would also prohibit the sale of PFAS-treated carpeting and rugs,, as well as fabric treatments containing the chemicals, starting in 2023 and give the DEP rulemaking authority to ban other products made with PFAS.

If approved by the full Legislature and signed by Mills, the bill would add Maine to a handful of states trying to reduce the flow of PFAS-containing products as a way to avoid future contamination. Lawmakers are considering roughly a dozen bills related to PFAS this session.

“What’s exciting about 1503 is it is setting a (precedent) of how to move forward in the longer term,” said Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the nonprofit environmental health group Defend Our Health, a major player on PFAS issues in Maine. “I think Maine will be a real leader in that aspect of it.”

Maine has been among the most active states on PFAS issues, in part because of growing concerns about contamination in treated municipal sludge, septic sewage and paper mill waste as fertilizer on farm fields.

Environmental regulators in Maine and other states sanctioned and licensed use of biosolids for decades as a way for farmers to enhance the nutrient content of their fields while reducing the landfilling costs of municipal treatment plants. But applications of biosolids have been linked to severe PFAS contamination in Arundel, Fairfield and a growing number of towns in central Maine.

More than 60 private wells in Fairfield have tested above the federal government’s health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for certain PFAS compounds, with levels in some wells measuring above 20,000 and 30,000 parts per trillion. The state’s investigation has since expanded to Benton, Unity and Oakfield, where sludge from the same sources was also spread on fields.

Bennett argued that the DEP has a responsibility “to clean up these problems which were largely inflicted because of state action or state inaction.” A second bill unanimously endorsed by the committee, L.D. 1600, would impose a $10-per-ton fee on sludge disposal for a new fund to help pay for testing and response to PFAS contamination.

Maine also has PFAS hotspots around multiple airports and former military bases, largely tied to the use of firefighting foam containing the chemicals. A separate bill seeking to phase out the purchase and use of such firefighting foam was tabled Wednesday to continue working on the language.

DEP officials supported and proposed a manufacturer-reporting program for products containing PFAS. The bill endorsed Wednesday would go even further, however, by also allowing the DEP to ban carpeting and other products containing PFAS and identify “unavoidable uses” of the chemicals, such as in medical supplies or safety components.

This is not new territory for the DEP, which already has a program to regulate and eventually prohibit chemicals in products.

Kerri Malinowski, the DEP staffer who oversees the Safer Chemicals program, told lawmakers that the department agrees with the “source reduction” approach. But she also cautioned that enforcing the law and identifying “unavoidable uses” will be time-consuming and costly given the international nature of manufacturing and supply chains, as well as how frequently manufacturing components change.

“I can tell you through my nine years of experience of implementing our Safer Chemicals programs that it is extremely challenging to chase enforcement in a universe of a supply chain that is incredibly vast,” Malinowski said.

Lawmakers were intent on pushing the DEP to take on the additional work, however, in anticipation Mills’ budget proposals.

“I am ready to give the DEP a lot of work,” said Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, adding it is also contingent on lawmakers to fund that work. “If the (Legislature) won’t give them the resources off the appropriations table, that’s a policy decision. … but we have to get moving on this. I think it is time to pass this bill.”

Roughly two hours later, Mills held a virtual news conference to unveil her administration’s proposals to legislative budget-writers for an additional $941 million that is expected to flow into the state’s coffers over the next two years. While education funding was the biggest part of that announcement, Mills also proposed allocating $40 million to addressing PFAS issues in Maine.

Specifically, Mills’ proposal calls for $15 million to help farmers impacted by PFAS, $15 million to provide safe drinking water to affected households, $5 million for testing and $5 million for managing PFAS-contaminated waste.

Assistance to affected farmers has been “quite limited” to date because of scant resources, said Nancy McBrady, director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. While the specifics would have to be worked out, McBrady said, the money would help pay for additional testing of milk and soil samples as well as emergency assistance to farmers.

“I think that this funding proposal is enormously important and impactful and one our department will readily utilize in our efforts to mitigate PFAS contamination in our agriculture community,” McBrady said in an interview. “And it is needed. We are resource constrained and it will certainly help us move in a direction that we haven’t been able to before.”

Members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee signaled bipartisan support for additional funding. Mills and Maine’s congressional delegation are also seeking additional federal support to address PFAS contamination.

“I think there is not a single legislator that is serving at this time that does not understand how important this issue is,” said Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick.

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