Can Hemp Save The Day? Will Space Travel Help People Care About The Planet?

Plus, Good News For Well Water Users

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We got a great response to last week’s reporting on EWG’s first-ever virtual PFAS conference. The conference recording is now available on demand (for free). Register here to watch it.

Maine Gets Serious About Its PFAS Problems

In other uplifting PFAS news, the state of Maine has officially banned products containing toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.”

“Maine should be congratulated for taking proactive action to work towards eliminating unnecessary uses of PFAS in all products,” said Linda S. Birnbaum Ph.D., former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program in a statement. “I hope Maine’s efforts serve as a model for other policymakers to protect all of us.”

Other states have taken action to phase out non-essential uses of PFAS, such as in food packaging, carpeting, and other consumer products, but Maine is the first state to require a comprehensive inventory of PFAS use and work to eventually eliminate all currently unavoidable uses. 

Another law LD 1600 passed, which will require the state to test both soil and groundwater for PFAS contamination at the more than 500 sites where either industrial or municipal sewer sludge was used as fertilizer over the last forty-plus years. I know this is a big win for many folks in Maine affected by PFAS-rich biosolids.

Finally, Maine will also ban the sale of firefighting foams containing PFAS starting next year thanks to another law, LD 1505. Fire departments in Maine can return PFAS foams to their manufacturer in order to replace existing stocks with PFAS-free alternatives.

All three bills passed with bipartisan cooperation and support, each receiving a unanimous “ought to pass” vote out of the Joint Environment and Natural Resources Committee and were unanimous or nearly so in chamber votes.

Looks like Maine is living up to its state motto “Dirigo,” which in Latin means “I direct” or “I lead.” I hope many more states and federal actions follows suit.

Hemp To The Rescue?

With all our PFAS coverage, a Brockovich Report reader sent us a link about hemp and its potential to help rid the environment of toxic chemicals. We love talking solutions as much as we bring awareness to the issues.

Before you go wild thinking I’m blazed up with this news, remember that hemp is a variety of the plant Cannabis sativa. We’re not talking about marijuana, which is illegal in many states. Hemp is an agricultural commodity similar to a fresh bundle of broccoli.

The new research published this month in the journal Cell Press found that planting small fields of fiber hemp helped removed a type of PFAS known as PFOS at a polluted former military site, Loring Airforce Base in Aroostook County, Maine.

The project is a partnership between scientists, community members, and activists, which in my opinion is a great way to go.

In 2019, members of the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) Nation, indigenous to the land now known as Canada’s eastern Maritime Provinces and parts of the northeastern United States, along with a New England organization Upland Grassroots, and research scientists came together to test methods for removing PFAS substances from land at the former air force base, now owned by the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.

The idea that certain plants can help remove toxic contaminants from the soil is known as phytoremediation.

“Hemp phytoremediation has been previously used for other types of soil contaminants—mainly metals,” according to Dr. Sara L. Nason, one of the lead researchers on the project.

Previous research has also shown that industrial hemp can be effective in phytoremediation.

The project faced many challenges including funding and travel constraints due to the pandemic, so the scientists relied upon local indigenous volunteers to collect field samples. Upland Grassroots organization then developed a plan for local volunteers to plant hemp and collect soil samples that would stand up in the scientific community.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts, the researchers were able to review the ability of the hemp plants to remove PFAS from the contaminated soil. So far, they found concentrations of PFAS decreased in both hemp growth plots planted.

Their findings still need to go through a peer-review process, but the initial results look promising. When it comes to PFAS, we need some hopeful news. Read more here.

A Well Water Act

More action out of Washington yesterday (July 20)! Our friend, Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee with a group of bipartisan leaders introduced a new bill called the Test Your Well Water Act.

The legislation would create an online tool on the U.S. EPA’s website for those with private wells to find resources to test their drinking water and understand what those results mean.

Talk about common sense legislation!

So many of the cases I’ve worked on throughout the years involve people and communities using well water. When your water comes from a private or community well rather than a municipality, then it’s up to you to maintain the safety of your water, as the EPA only regulates public water systems. Many states and towns do not require sampling of private wells once they’re installed, so the responsibility of maintaining clean drinking water falls to homeowners.

The problems pop up when industrial neighbors dump toxic chemicals that seep into the groundwater without alerting the locals about it. About 15 percent of U.S. residents (or 43 million people) get their drinking water from private wells, which should be protected from this kind of contamination.

This new tool would help promote transparency, modernize and simplify access to EPA resources to help those potentially exposed to toxic PFAS and other chemicals.

“Many communities, including Oscoda in my district, have for years been dealing with the impact of contaminated well water,” Congressman Kildee said in a press release. “Having an easy interactive online tool through the EPA will make it easier for people to test their well water and make sure it is safe to drink and free from PFAS chemicals. I am proud to have worked with both Republicans and Democrats on this legislation and I will continue to push legislation to make sure all Americans have access to clean drinking water and address PFAS.”

Kudos to Congressman Kildee for leading the charge to help more communities have access to clean water. So many folks with well water have felt left out for too long without any resources to help.

Space Dreams Come True

I know there’s a lot of opinions about the billionaire space race and future plans for space tourism, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge a historic moment for women in science. Yesterday (July 20), Wally Funk, a spunky 82-year-old became the oldest person to travel to space. Go Wally!

In this clip, talking about what it was like to finally make it to space, Wally said, “I didn’t do dolls, I did outside stuff.” I love it, I was/am an outdoors girl too!

In 1961 (just a year after I was born), Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk was the youngest at age 22 of a group of elite female pilots to train for space travel as part of Project Mercury, NASA’s first human spaceflight program.

The women, known as Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs), trained in New Mexico, consistently outperforming the men who become astronauts and household names, such as John Glenn and Alan Shepard. Sadly, none of the women ever made it to space until Wally yesterday.

I celebrate Wally’s dream come true as a reminder to all of us to reach for the stars. Imagine if we all took our big, scary goals more seriously. We could make some shit happen!

As we continue to debate whether space travel is appropriate right now with so many issues to grapple with on our planet, consider this thoughtful 2019 article from Scientific American: Can Spaceflight Save the Planet?

I hope that many more eco-friendly innovations develop as we explore space, and for those that get to see the planet from a higher perspective, that they will lead the charge in helping sustain this beautiful planet.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below! This community is growing and we love hearing from you.