State lawmakers have voted to ban pesticides that contain so-called forever chemicals by 2030.

The bill would gradually phase out the sale, distribution and use of pesticides with intentionally added per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, chemical compounds linked to significant human health risks, including cancer, that have been detected at high levels in Maine farming communities.

“A lot of the work we do in this chamber isn’t particularly historic and probably won’t be remembered 30 years from now, but the work that we do this session on PFAS is the exception,” Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, said Thursday after the bill was approved in the House. “Once we know better, we have to do better.”

PFAS are a class of over 4,000 manmade chemicals used since the 1950s in industrial and household products like waterproof clothing, non-stick cookware and firefighting foam. They have been linked to cancer, kidney malfunction, immune system suppression and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

The bill, which has divided the state farming community, almost died in the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry last month after a majority voted to kill it. Powerful players like the blueberry and potato boards said science had yet to conclude if trace PFAS levels in pesticides posed a human health risk.

But the House and Senate, which are acting on a suite of PFAS bills this session, voted to revive the proposed ban, passing it by a 75-61 margin in the House on Thursday and a healthy 24-8 margin in the Senate on Monday.


Lawmakers had differing opinions about what a pro-agriculture vote meant on L.D. 2019.

Some ban supporters invoked Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” urging big chemical companies to stop using the general population and Maine farmers in particular as unknowing guinea pigs for their commercial experimentation, before casting their vote.

“If we are going to have a thriving natural resource-based economy, we have to show and do what Mainers have always done in this building, to show that we are leaders in protecting that environment and protecting public health,” said Sen. Richard Bennett, R-Oxford.

Other lawmakers warned that leading the way in this area could hurt Maine farmers financially, taking away important crop management tools that keep them competitive in the national and global markets.

“I think this is an overreaction,” said Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, who called the ban a mistake that would drive farmers out of Maine. “We’re talking about a very small number of chemicals that have a very important (role to) play in a lot of the farming industries in the state of Maine.”

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said Maine farmers are creative, resourceful people who will adapt.


“Chemical weapons of warfare, that is what we are talking about here today,” said Hickman, an organic farmer himself who used to chair the agriculture committee. “We cannot continue to kill ourselves in the name of agriculture.”

Both chambers will get another look at it before the bill goes to the Appropriations Committee, which would have to agree to add the $200,000-a-year cost of funding the bill – mostly to pay for the extra state employees needed to monitor the ban – to the supplemental budget before it could proceed.

On the House side, lawmakers also voted 81-52 in favor of a bill that would ban the spreading of sewage sludge, believed to be the primary source of PFAS contamination of drinking and irrigation wells, fields and even the farmers themselves in at least three dozen Maine communities.

The bill, L.D. 1911, aims to end the decades-old practice of recycling state-licensed municipal sludge from wastewater treatment plants into fertilizer to enrich Maine farmlands. Opponents, including some farmers, argue that not all sludge is dangerous and that it keeps farming and sewage treatment costs down.

The sludge has since been linked to contaminated well water, fields, crops and milk in dairy herds that grazed on sludge-fertilized lands. The chemicals also have been found in deer and freshwater fish in Maine.

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