Jun 17, 2023

National group uses Maine data to highlight PFAS in pesticides

A national environmental organization is using a relatively new Maine law to call attention to the presence of so-called "forever chemicals" in pesticides.

Under a law passed last year, pesticides that contain "intentionally added" PFAS cannot be sold in Maine starting in 2030. In the meantime, Maine's Board of Pesticides Control has begun compiling a list of chemicals that the state has flagged as belonging to the PFAS family.

The Environmental Working Group, which is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that is heavily focused on chemical safety, used that growing list and pesticide registrations in Maine to identify more than 1,400 pesticides that contain active ingredients that meet the state's definition of PFAS. The group released a list of those 55 active ingredients on Tuesday as part of its campaign to highlight potential PFAS exposure to agricultural workers, gardeners and consumers.

Lillian Zhou, a law fellow with the group, said she believes Maine is the first state to begin collecting this information on PFAS in pesticides.

"But we hope that other states will follow too and take the protective approach that Maine has to ban intentionally added PFAS from all pesticides," Zhou said. "And we also hope that this will really give pesticide manufactures a push to start phasing out PFAS from their products."

PFAS is short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, a class of thousands of chemicals that have been widely used in the industrial coatings for decades. They have been used to produce non-stick cookware, water- and stain-repellant fabrics, firefighting foam, grease-resistant food packaging and in many other products. But the durability that makes them so useful as coatings means they do not readily breakdown in the environment or the body, hence the nickname "forever chemicals." And a growing body of studies have linked some PFAS to health problems such as cancer, kidney malfunction and low birth weight.

Maine has moved aggressively to regulate PFAS in response to contamination found on farms and in water wells around the state. Much of that contamination has been linked to the use of treated municipal sludge as fertilizer on cropfields. Roughly 50 farms and several hundred private wells have been found to have PFAS contamination at levels that exceed the state's strict health standards. State lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Janet Mills has responded by earmarking more than $100 million in recent years to PFAS testing, research, remediation and programs to support impacted farmers and homeowners.

Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said in a statement following the Environmental Work Group's report that Maine "has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to address the prevalent problem of PFAS in pesticides."

"The state is working hard to gather information about the extent of the problem and give pesticide manufacturers ample time to reformulate their products so farm families, farm workers and farmland are protected from further PFAS contamination," Spalding said. "At this point, pesticide manufacturers need to answer two simple yes/no questions about whether they include PFAS in their product formulation and whether they store their products in fluorinated containers. The public has the right to know what they’re being exposed to and is demanding a reasonable phaseout of the forever chemicals."