The Maine state government is moving in the right direction to protect citizens from toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoralkyl substances) that are contaminating soil and groundwater nationwide —but it may be too little, too late.
I commend the Mills administration for forming a task force to study the prevalence of PFAS contamination in Maine and slowing sewage sludge spreading to address PFAS contamination of Maine soil, but the government has still kept restrictions loose on products such as compost.
When PFAS are used in consumer products, they can leach away into our wastewater, eventually polluting sewage sludge and composts. If potentially contaminated products such as compost are allowed to be sold and used, the state will continue the permanent contamination of our land and waterways with these “‘forever chemicals” and ensure that food grown in Maine can still have dangerously high levels of PFAS.
While state regulators and business stakeholders argue that there’s little danger posed by the low levels of PFAS in their products, an increasing body of research indicates that even low levels of PFAS can impair important bodily functions, including reproductive function. I would argue that there is no safe dose of PFAS due to the chemical’s longevity and toxicity, and many scientists believe the so-called “safe” PFAS doses should be lowered considerably from current standards.
For young people like me, there’s another, more personal stake in the matter. PFAS are endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with the reproductive system, and studies indicate they are contributing to a global infertility crisis. I’m 19, and there’s evidence that many members of my generation that want to have children won’t have the option due to decreasing sperm counts and similar reproductive changes caused by endocrine disruptors.
Maine has an aging population, and the government has recently been prioritizing attracting young people to live and work here. Reproductive toxins like PFAS that aren’t strictly regulated are a problem for everyone, but they pose a particularly potent threat to developing children and new parents. As a young person soon to be looking for a job and a home, I would not choose to live in a place where I would be exposed to endocrine disruptors. Maine was and is a wonderful place to grow up, but the risks of chemical exposure are just too high.
Without regulations preventing the sale of PFAS-contaminated compost, how could I know that the soil in my garden hasn’t been permanently contaminated with reproductive toxins? Without more legislation phasing out PFAS in products, could I really trust that our waterways are contaminant-free, given the longevity of PFAS? Could I trust that someday my children will be safe and healthy here?
Without a clear, active response to stop further PFAS contamination and clean up existing PFAS in the ecosystem, there is no way to know, and I’m not about to take chances with toxic chemicals.
I was always proud of Maine as state that prioritized environmental concerns, with pristine land uncontaminated by pollutants, but now I’m not so sure. My generation pays attention to the environment. If we want to revitalize Maine’s economy and encourage growth from young workers and entrepreneurs, PFAS just doesn’t fit into the picture.
The best time to stop PFAS contamination was 70 years ago when the first PFAS went into production. The second-best time was the moment high levels of PFAS were discovered on Maine’s farms, but late is better than never, before we lose our opportunity to protect our health and the health of generations to come.
William Fahy of Hallowell is studying chemistry and researching environmental science at Carnegie Mellon University.