AUGUSTA — Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, has introduced a bill that would require state-owned waste disposal facilities to reduce the concentration of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly known as PFAS — in leachate. It is aimed at making the Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town reduce the amount of PFAS entering the Penobscot River from waste at the site.

PFAS are a large group of synthetic fluorinated chemicals widely used in household items to make them stain, heat, oil and water resistant, according to a 2020 PFAS task force report on the state’s website. They are used in items such as clothing, furniture fabric, food packaging, cookware, carpets, outdoor recreation items and electronics. The chemicals take a long time to break down in the environment.

Exposure to these substances can reduce the body’s vaccine response ability, reduce women’s fertility, lower infant birth weight, raise cholesterol levels, raise a person’s risk for thyroid disease and kidney or testicular cancer, and increase pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, according to the task force report.

LD 1875 would require that PFAS be removed from materials before they are transported to the landfill, Zeigler said. The Department of Environmental Protection would have to adopt rules regarding technology requirements and ensure those requirements were implemented within three years.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, secured funding recently for the Anson-Madison Stationary District wastewater treatment facility to add a PFAS treatment system. Contaminated leachate would be treated there before being delivered to the landfill, Zeigler said.

The treated leachate would remove enough contaminants to bring the liquid to drinking water standards, he said. The water treatment facility in Old Town is not equipped for that standard of treatment right now.

It is unclear to him the quantity of PFAS being released into the river currently, he said. The state has started looking into how much land is contaminated. The so-called forever chemicals were found in an on-site dairy sample from a farm in the Fairfield area. Harvested deer in that area were also found to have high PFAS levels.

The state started testing sites in certain towns around Fairfield and farther away, where some farms used wastewater sludge containing the chemicals as fertilizer. Some of those testing sites are in Waldo County. The soil at one organic farm in Unity was found to be contaminated with the chemicals.

Members of the Penobscot Nation have been concerned about the chemicals entering the river, Zeigler said. The Native Americans are concerned about possible contamination from Juniper Ridge. They are concerned about their own health as it relates to their activities on the river and the health of the river itself.

The Penobscot people have used the river as a source of sustenance since before colonization. When the contaminated leachate runs into the river it is quickly swept away to other places downstream, Zeigler said.

He has not received much public pushback over the bill, but it is just in its beginning stages, working its way through the Legislature, he said. He hopes it will also be an example to other landfills in the state.

“The impact of leachate from Juniper Ridge entering the Penobscot River is of significant concern, especially since the Penobscot Nation depends on the fish in the river,” Zeigler said in a press release announcing the bill.

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