Last month, the Maine legislature introduced broad and sweeping restrictions on a range of products containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”). These restrictions are some of the most comprehensive in the country, and, in effect, would ban PFAS in almost all products in the state by 2030. Specifically, the law mandates that on January 1, 2030, “a person may not sell, offer for sale or distribute for sale” products where PFAS have been “intentionally added,” except in cases of “unavoidable use.” Though PFAS have faced heightened public and regulatory scrutiny in the last few years, an outright ban like this is the first of its kind. Unsurprisingly, environmentalists and industry-members are clashing on the merits of the restrictions, with the former heralding it as a guiding light for other states to follow, and the latter fearful that it is the latest contribution to a balkanized regulatory system that will paralyze industry and deprive consumers of essential goods.
The “unavoidable use” exception to the pending ban is the subject of a rulemaking process by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) and awaits further detail. Depending on the nuances of this exception, the law could very well ban a vast range of products. Compliance for many companies is expected to be difficult, and given already strained supply chains, could result in certain products not being sold in the state altogether. Moreover, the law imposes a heavy administrative burden on the DEP, which will now be tasked with verifying compliance for a massive swath of products, ranging across fabrics, cleaning products, paints, fire-fighting foams, cookware, food packaging, food processing equipment, and cosmetics, among others.
A particularly notable criticism is that all PFAS are not the same. Indeed, there are over 9,000 types of PFAS (identified so far), each with their own unique chemical makeup and profiles. Maine’s bold stroke is therefore scientifically overbroad and will impose unnecessary burdens on many of the product manufacturers and retailers doing business in the state. Moreover, in a state that has ambitions of transitioning to more renewable energy sources, PFAS provide crucial insulation and physical, thermal, and chemical resistance to technologies vital to solar and wind energy.
Science driven and industry sensitive alternatives are certainly prevalent in sister states. In fact, states like California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, have enacted less restrictive PFAS statutes than the total ban Maine proposes. Many of those states too, along with Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all have proposed legislation regulating PFAS in some capacity.
That said, current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes. This, combined with their presence in various environmental media, consumer goods, and food product packaging, could make them a broad and slow-building threat to human health.
Given the sophistication and complexity behind PFAS regulation, painting with broad prohibitions like Maine’s is certainly bold. No other state in the union, even those with notoriously more rigid regulatory structures for environmental issues, have an outright and total ban on PFAS. A one-size-fits-all solution is simply impractical and overbroad, disrupting economies and industry while reducing consumer’s access to essential goods and services. Of course, when health is at stake, further investigation is warranted. This analysis can and should be conducted in a way that is congruous with the nation’s recovering supply chain and economic apparatus.