Maine’s attorney general says he is seeking legal assistance for potential claims against manufacturers of so-called “forever chemicals” that have caused environmental damage in Maine.

Aaron M. Frey said in a news release that he is seeking proposals from one or more qualified private law firms for potential legal claims against manufacturers of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS and PCBs are groups of persistent, man-made chemicals that have been used in industrial and commercial applications and have been detected on farms and in private wells in Maine.

Law firms have until Oct. 29 to file their proposals.

“There is strong evidence that these chemicals are harmful and threaten Mainers’ health and well-being,” Frey said in a statement. “It is important to hold manufacturers of these chemicals accountable for contamination they are responsible for. This is an important first step in that process.”

Gov. Janet Mills’ administration and the Maine Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will provide support for the effort, the new release said.

State lawmakers passed a sweeping set of bills to address the problems posed by so-called “forever chemicals,” which have harmed farms and contaminated dozens of private wells across the state. One bill that took effect in July requires manufacturers to report their use of PFAS, and to phase them out by 2030.

PFAS have been used in a variety of applications since the 1940s, including nonstick cookware, firefighting foam and textiles. The extent of PFAS contamination is still unknown, but several Maine families and businesses have been affected by PFAS contamination in groundwater and soil.

PCBs were manufactured in the United States from 1929 until production was banned in 1979, but are still found in products such as window caulking, floor finishes, thermal insulation and electrical equipment. PCBs can be absorbed by food crops and fish and do not break down easily in the environment. They have been found at levels high enough to warrant consumption limits on fish taken from some rivers and streams in Maine.

Mills formed a PFAS Task Force in 2020 that recommended accelerated PFAS sampling. The task force also recommended that the AG’s office pursue legal options against parties responsible for contaminating crops, waterways and wells. The Maine DEP plans to take samples at approximately 700 locations over the next two years.

Defend our Health, a nonprofit in Portland, praised Frey’s announcement.

“We applaud Attorney General Frey and his team for moving forward in holding industry accountable for the damage they have inflicted on Maine,” Patrick MacRoy, deputy director at Defend our Health, said in a statement Tuesday. “The manufacturers are responsible for the contamination from these nearly indestructible chemicals and there is substantial evidence that many manufacturers hid the harm for years.”

Defend our Health said forever chemicals can increase the risk of some cancers, potentially harm the immune system, and decrease response to vaccines. PCBs can increase the risk of melanoma as well as liver, gallbladder  and brain cancers.

Defend our Health, formerly known as the Environmental Health Strategy Center, is a nonprofit public health organization that advocated in the last legislative session for passage of L.D. 1503 and L.D. 1600, two laws designed to help the state determine where PFAs are coming from and identify areas that have been contaminated.


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