In response to reports nationwide regarding the prevalence of a perfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, Governor Janet Mills today signed an Executive Order creating a Governor’s Task Force to mobilize state agencies and other stakeholders to review the prevalence of PFAS in Maine and put forward a plan to address it.
“While PFAS was once a common chemical used in products ranging from clothing to cookware, scientific studies have revealed that it could pose a danger to the health of people, which is why it has been phased out of use over the past several decades. However, because of its frequent use since the 1950s, contaminated sites have been identified across the country, including here in Maine,” said Governor Mills. “That is why it is important for the state to identify any locations in Maine where PFAS are prevalent; examine its effects on drinking water, freshwater fish and marine organisms; and take steps to create and implement treatment and disposal options. The EPA is dragging its feet on the issue, leaving states to take the lead. My Executive Order established a Task Force, chaired by a public health expert, to mobilize state government and experts statewide to ensure we have accurate information about this issue and the tools we need to address it.”
The Task Force will be chaired by public health expert Meredith Lentz Tipton of South Portland, who was jointly selected by Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Jerry Reid.
“While this should not be a cause for alarm, I am thankful Governor Mills is taking this issue seriously,” said Dr. Meredith Lentz Tipton. “I look forward to working with my fellow Task Force members to coordinate the efforts of state government, various experts, and public health officials to study the prevalence of PFAS across the state and work to address it.”
During her decades long career working to improve the nation’s public health system, Tipton formerly served as the President of Maine Center for Public Health, as an Associate Dean at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, as Director of Health Improvement for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, and as Administrator and Local Health Officer for the City of Portland’s Public Health Division among many other roles.
The chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonate or PFOS are man-made chemicals that became widely used in household products and industrial settings as early as the 1950s. PFOA and PFOS are sometimes referenced in a group of similar chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)(PDF), these chemicals have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g., cookware) because of their unique ability to repel oil, grease, water and heat. Additionally, both PFOA and PFOS were historically used in firefighting foams, especially at industrial sites, due to their effectiveness at quickly extinguishing petroleum based fires. Because of the chemicals being used in an array of consumer products, most people have been exposed to them. Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer. In 2006, eight major companies voluntarily agreed to phase out their global production of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals, although there are a limited number of ongoing uses.
In Maine, PFAS has been detected at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and the former Loring Air Force Base, which are working to determine the extent of PFAS in the surrounding environment. Information about sites where PFAS have been located are available on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s website.
When the hazards of these chemicals became more evident, the EPA issued a drinking water Health Advisory (PDF) for PFOA and PFOS in May 2016. In May 2018, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt held a PFAS National Leadership Summit where he announced that the EPA would take steps to address PFAS contamination, including a commitment to setting a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS chemicals. However, when the EPA released its Action Plan last month it did not include a commitment to setting a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS chemicals and, instead, prolonged the evaluation of that decision for at least another year. As a result, Congressional action is pending and states, such as New Hampshire, are taking steps to create drinking water standards relating to PFAS. Maine is now following suit.
The Task Force established by Governor Mills’ Executive Order today will:
- Review information regarding known locations of PFAS detection in Maine and the status of any response strategies for those sites;
- Identify significant data gaps in the knowledge of PFAS in Maine and develop recommendations to address such gaps;
- Identify opportunities for public education regarding PFAS contamination and the effects of its exposure on public health and the environment;
- Identify the sources of PFAS contamination and exposure pathways that pose the greatest risk to public health and the environment in Maine;
- Examine the benefits and burdens of various treatment and disposal options for PFAS-contaminated media;
- Assess how State agencies can most effectively use their existing authority and resources to reduce or eliminate priority and other risks from PFAS contamination;
- Determine the inventory and use of fluorinated Aqueous Film Forming Foam in firefighting and fire training activities in Maine and evaluate effective non- fluorinated alternatives; and
- Examine Maine and other data regarding PFAS contamination in freshwater fish and marine organisms and determine whether further such examination is warranted.
The Task Force will issue a report to Governor Mills’ Administration with their findings and recommendations to address PFAS exposure and contamination in Maine.
The Task Force will be comprised of Commissioners, or their designees, of the Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP); Health and Human Services (DHHS); Agriculture Conservation and Forestry (DACF); and Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.
Additionally, the Commissioners of DHHS and DEP will jointly select a representative from either a Maine-based non-profit whose mission includes protecting human health and the environment from the effects of chemical contamination, the pulp and paper industry or a Maine-based association of certified wastewater treatment plant operators, drinking water supply professions and biosolids and residuals management professionals.
Health agencies are working to understand the health effects of low level, long term exposure. Some studies suggest that these chemicals may affect cholesterol levels, thyroid function, birth weight, liver function, infant development, and the immune system.
Any individual or organization who may be concerned about PFAS or seeking additional information should call the Maine Department of Environmental Protection at 207-215-1894.