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PFAS is a Hazardous Substance

There is a relatively new threat to the health of Americans and Canadians. The flourishing future for all people, which our religious tradition envisions, is threatened by PFAS chemicals, which contaminate our water supplies and exist in various consumer products. Vulnerable and frontline communities, for whom we are particularly called to care, are especially affected. Of the approximately 5000 PFAS chemicals produced, only perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanoic sulfonate (PFOS) have been studied extensively. 

These chemicals accumulate in nature and the human body over time.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has noted, these chemicals accumulate in nature and the human body over time. Evidence indicates that communities subjected to prolonged PFAS exposure will experience adverse health effects, including reproductive and immune system disruption, impaired fetal development, birth defects, thyroid problems, and kidney and testicular cancers.

PFAS chemicals are used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as nonstick coatings on cookware, grease-resistant coatings on food packaging, outerwear, and furniture. These chemicals are also used in many firefighting foams, which then contaminate soil and water. State-ordered testing in 2019 revealed nearly all sewage sludge used as fertilizer or for compost in Maine is contaminated with toxic PFAS.

Maine legislature is moving relatively quickly.

The state of Maine learned about PFAS pollution in 2019, when headlines broke nationwide about Arundel dairy farmer Fred Stone’s livelihood being ruined by PFAS contamination of his land, cows, and milk—a result of state-sanctioned spreading of sewage and industrial sludge on his farmland as a fertilizer. Nearly all other sites where sewage and industrial sludge were spread across the state remain untested for PFAS contamination.

The Maine legislature is moving relatively quickly to respond to the PFAS threat. The bill under consideration, LD 1923, “An Act To Define as a Hazardous Substance under Maine Law Any Substance Defined under Federal Law as a Hazardous Substance, Pollutant or Contaminant” will allow the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to designate PFAS (and other emerging threats) as hazardous chemicals—allowing the state to prioritize and fund clean-up of contaminated sites. 

Currently, few resources exist

As one environmental leader said at a recent hearing, “Mainers deserve to have a Department of Environmental Protection that is empowered to quickly identify and respond to hazardous substances found, both to limit further contamination and to begin the process of holding responsible parties accountable for their actions”. Under the current Maine statute, Mainers have to wait for the federal government to identify hazardous substances. As Governor Janet Mills said in her State of the State speech “We are not Washington. We are Maine. We should not have to wait for Washington to act to protect our communities from hazardous substances.” 

Currently, few resources exist for farmers, landowners, and communities struggling to address PFAS contamination. If Maine is going to start tackling PFAS contamination, and the resulting harm to the health of Mainers and to the health of our environment, we must identify sources of funding for cleaning up PFAS contamination. LD 1923 starts the process of doing that.

The moral responsibility of protecting communities cannot be overlooked.

Because God calls people of faith to be stewards of the earth, several U.S. national denominations and religious organizations are supporting adding PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) – a national federal program. Protecting human health and all of God’s creation requires strengthening regulatory and reporting standards for these chemicals. The moral responsibility of protecting communities from harmful chemical contaminations cannot be overlooked. Providing the public with access to information regarding potential exposure to PFAS chemicals furthers the mission of protecting human health and caring for the air, land and water upon which all of God’s creation depends.

So, the PFAS problem will require states, provinces, and federal governments to take important steps to respond to this threat.

Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

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