Read the full article by Erin Rhoda (Maine Public)
“The public was supposed to learn for the first time last year which Maine manufacturers are using PFAS and discharging the chemicals as waste, but a federal loophole has apparently allowed the facilities to evade reporting the information, fomenting anger about a federal inability to provide basic information related to a public health threat.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will reverse the reporting loophole, which the Trump administration applied without public comment. But it’s not yet known when it will do so, leaving Maine residents in the dark about whether and where the toxic chemicals are still being processed as Maine prepares to spend tens of millions of dollars to address contamination.
The information from the federal government was expected to provide the first definitive accounting of original, major sources of PFAS-laden waste in Maine. But a new Maine law will allow the state to gather more information about PFAS discharges on its own, and at least one paper mill is phasing out its use of PFAS, meaning that when the federal government eventually publishes details about manufacturers’ PFAS waste it could be too little too late.
Last year Nathan Saunders of Fairfield, a PFAS hotspot in Maine, wanted to know how much PFAS waste was being released across the state. State government didn’t have the authority to collect the information, he learned. So he talked to an official in a regional office of the EPA who told him the data would become public soon. After Congress directed it to, the federal agency was about to publish the first-ever report on the quantity of 172 different per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances that facilities nationwide were discharging into the ground, water and air.
It is clear that some Maine paper mills have historically used the chemicals to make their products. The Maine Forest Products Council, which represents pulp and paper mills, told the Maine Legislature in 2019, ‘We have mills using short-chain PFAS.’ Twin Rivers Paper Co. in Madawaska has openly discussed its efforts to change course and commercialize a PFAS-free, grease-resistant paper.
But other manufacturers and paper mills have been less forthcoming, leaving people to connect the dots between the shreds of available information: Some mills, such as the previous owners of Sappi North America’s Skowhegan and Westbrook paper mills, received state permits to spread their treated waste on the land as fertilizer. Wastewater treatment plants that received manufacturing waste, such as from Huhtamaki’s paper plate-making plant on the Fairfield-Waterville line, also spread the material later found to contain PFAS. Now, tests have shown that water from wells near those sludge-spreading sites have high levels of PFAS contamination.
Finally, after learning he had been drinking water contaminated with PFAS for more than 30 years, Saunders believed he would find out whether manufacturers near him were still processing the chemicals, which have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, increased cholesterol, vaccine resistance in children and reproductive complications. The public should know how the chemicals are being used and discharged, he said, so local people and governments can respond.
On July 29, 2021, the EPA announced its preliminary data from the Toxics Release Inventory, a database created under President Ronald Reagan that aims to inform people about how chemicals near them are managed. But not one Maine facility reported releasing PFAS in 2020. No facility said it had PFAS waste despite the fact that the chemicals have been found in Maine drinking water supplies, landfill runoff, wastewater, sludge and septage spreading sites, wildlife, house dust, human blood and on farm fields.
The same trend played out across the nation. Just 38 facilities nationwide — mostly those making the chemicals or managing hazardous waste — reported disposing of PFAS materials, despite one estimate that thousands of industrial sites are actually doing so. Most of the reported PFAS waste went into land disposal sites, with a smaller percentage emitted into the air and discharged into water.”…