In November 2017, Camden residents voted overwhelmingly to ban the use of unencapsulated polystyrene in all coastal and inland waters within the town. We’re talking about that ubiquitous blue Styrofoam that cracks and crumbles over time, scattering plastic chunks of all sizes into the water and along our shores. Look carefully almost anywhere along Megunticook Lake or River and you will see little bits of it.

At Shirttail, where the bank is eroding, the blue foam can be seen embedded in the soil profile, the type of thing that archaeologists in future years will probably be able to use to identify the time period when humans were unaware of the impact of choices.

I believe it was Roger Rittmaster who first brought this issue to the Conservation Commission after noticing the foam could be found just about everywhere he paddled throughout the Megunticook Watershed. It’s one of those things you may not see until someone brings it to your attention, and then you can’t stop seeing it wherever you go.

Blue foam lining the shore of bog bridge boat launch. Photo courtesy of Roger Rittmaster and the Camden Conservation Commission

The ordinance banned all new floats with the unencapsulated Styrofoam and gave existing floats a five-year grace period. Five years can fly by or feel like an impossibly long time to wait. It all depends on which side of the wait you find yourself and whether it’s the wishing or dreading type, I suppose. For me, the five years went faster than I thought it would, but not fast enough.

At the time, the ordinance was one of the first in the state and was approved by a margin of more than 4-1. It was nice to see keeping the water free of plastic debris is something most of us agree on. We do share some bodies of water with other towns, so we probably haven’t seen the end of the blue foam, but it should be significantly reduced.

Blue foam is, of course, not the only legacy we will leave behind in the environment, and depending on your perspective, it may be a much smaller concern than some of the less visible contaminants. Every time I see the little pieces of it in the soil or floating in the river, I wonder what else is lurking unseen.

Maine has recently been at the forefront of another contaminant related issue in the form of forever chemicals like per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The industrial history of the town and the wastewater treatment plant that processes the water means we’ve had a lot of byproducts that were either discarded carelessly on sites like the tannery or, in some cases, the sludge from the wastewater plant was spread as fertilizer on agricultural land or even many home gardens. It is a really good idea to have your soil tested before growing vegetables or letting your kids play there.

A stray piece of blue foam on the Public Landing. In the background, recently replaced Town of Camden Harbor floats with encapsulated flotation. Photo courtesy of Alison McKellar

I read recently Maine is phasing in requirements to eliminate forever chemicals like PFAS from pesticides and other products by the year 2030. The spreading of municipal sludge containing these chemicals is required to stop right away but pesticides ridden with these chemicals are so intertwined in our agricultural processes we apparently have to give them until 2030 to be phased out. 2030 seems like a long time to wait when we know how damaging these chemicals are to humans and the environment.

There are so many things of the past we look back on now and shake our heads at, wondering how we could have ever been so careless with the environment. There are practices that are common today which will undoubtedly attain that status in years to come as we learn more and public consciousness grows. But for now, all we can do is try to do better when we know better.

To me, the ban on blue foam is one small sign of hope that we as a community are willing to move in the right direction and take action when possible.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and Select Board Vice-Chair. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of The Camden Herald. We welcome letters and guest columns reflecting other viewpoints via editor@villagesoup.com.

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