York takes legal action against chemical companies over PFAS chemicals

February 1, 2024

York Sewer District has initiated legal proceedings against chemical manufacturers, according to a report by The York Weekly.

This action is in response to the contamination of the town’s wastewater biosolids by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which these companies produce.

The lawsuit’s objective is to transfer the financial burden of disposing of this polluted sludge from the district’s customers to the responsible parties.

Maine’s 2022 legislation, prohibiting the use of biosolids as fertilizer on farmlands, has led to a significant increase in disposal costs.

The sludge, once recycled into the soil for its nutrients, is now destined for landfills, doubling the cost of disposal.

The pervasive nature of PFAS

PFAS, a family of chemicals known for their resistance to water, oil, and heat, are ubiquitous in many everyday products.

Found in items such as firefighting foam, waterproof clothing, nonstick pans, and even dental floss, these substances are nearly impossible for consumers to avoid.

PFAS are not typically listed on product labels, and often enter products through complex supply chains.

The resilience of PFAS means they break down slowly, accumulating in the environment and human bodies.

Alarmingly, studies show that 97% of Americans have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood.

Exposure to these chemicals, even at low levels, is associated with serious health issues like kidney and liver disease, heart disease, and various cancers.

York’s proactive approach to PFAS

York, situated between two PFAS hotspots, has adopted a proactive stance.

The York Water District, for the past decade, has been testing its water for PFAS, including 18 different types since 2022.

Remarkably, no PFAS have been detected in York’s water.

This achievement is noteworthy given that federal regulations do not mandate PFAS testing for public water supplies, although Maine does.

The York Sewer District has also been vigilant, investigating any unusual sources of PFAS in its sewage treatment facility.

The levels of PFAS in treated water are lower than the state’s requirements for drinking water, and the recovered biosolids are now disposed of in landfills, subject to regular PFAS leakage tests.

Maine’s assertive response to PFAS contamination includes being the first state to ban “intentionally added” PFAS in consumer products.

This initiative started in 2023 and will culminate in a complete ban by 2030.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has become a key information source on PFAS.

The future of PFAS

The ongoing development of scientific responses to PFAS parallels the unfolding impacts on health and the environment.

In Maine, notable organizations in this effort include the UMaine PFAS+ Initiative, Portland Press Herald, Maine Monitor, Maine Farmland Trust, Defend Our Health, and Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association.

FSJA Comment

York’s initiative against PFAS contamination highlights a growing awareness and response to environmental hazards.

The approach taken by the York Sewer District, combining legal action and proactive testing, exemplifies a community-driven response to a global issue.

This case underscores the importance of local and state-level interventions in environmental health, especially when federal regulations lag.

Maine’s pioneering legislation and the York district’s lawsuit against major chemical companies set a precedent for other states and communities facing similar challenges.

The collective approach, involving public agencies, legal actions, and community organizations, provides a blueprint for addressing widespread environmental contaminants.

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