In recent years, a growing number of states have established policies to address contamination from per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), which have been used in the manufacture of thousands of products, including cookware, cosmetics, food packaging, carpets, and firefighting foams. There are thousands of different PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others. One common characteristic is that PFAS do not break down in the environment or in our bodies – and hence, they have been dubbed “forever chemicals.”
During a panel discussion at the 2023 CSG East Annual Meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Maine State Representative Lori Gramlich described a situation that she called the “perfect storm.”
In November 2016, Fred Potter, a dairy farmer, learned that his water contained PFAS at levels that were two times higher than what the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency considered to be safe. Potter later learned that the PFAS contamination stemmed from the spreading of municipal sludge back in 1986. The PFAS levels were so alarming that Potter could no longer sell the milk produced by his dairy cows. He had to euthanize most of the herd. “And he and his family have been plagued with health problems ever since,” said Gramlich.
During Gramlich’s first term in the legislature in 2019, she learned about Potter’s experience from a colleague who represented his district. Since then, Maine has become a leader in addressing PFAS contamination. Governor Janet Mills created a task force bringing together state agencies and other stakeholders to explore the extent of PFAS contamination in the state and create a plan to address it. Gramlich, who serves as House chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, introduced several measures that have been enacted, including legislation that requires transparency from manufacturers who add PFAS to their products, and will compel them to phase out their use in Maine.
During the panel, Gramlich was joined by Rhode Island State Representative Terri Cortvriend, and Maryland State Senator Katie Fry Hester, who discussed efforts among them and their colleagues to assess the extent of PFAS contamination in drinking water, pesticides, and other products; remediate where possible; ban or phase out their use in a wide range of products; and promote safer alternatives.
Given the pervasiveness of PFAS contamination and broad concerns about how to protect communities from harm, several members suggested that CSG East organize a regional summit in the coming months, to convene officials from all three branches with a range of experts to explore alternatives to PFAS and discuss best practices.
CSG East looks forward to continuing this important conversation with our members going forward. You can sign up for future meeting notices via Constant Contact using this link.