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Environment and Outdoors

Maine AG is close to announcing legal ‘roadmap’ for lawsuits over PFAS

Forever Chemicals Sludge
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, dairy cows rest outside the home of Fred and Laura Stone at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine. The farm has been forced to shut down after sludge spread on the land was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said his office is finalizing a legal framework for going after the manufacturers of the so-called "forever chemicals" known as PFAS.

The Attorney General’s Office began last fall soliciting bids from law firms willing to help represent the state in legal cases against the chemical companies that make PFAS. Used for decades in consumer products, some varieties of PFAS – short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances – have been linked to heath concerns. And there are a growing number of PFAS hotspots popping up around the state, many of which have been linked to contaminated municipal sludge or industrial waste that was spread on farm fields as fertilizer.

Speaking on Maine Calling on Tuesday, Frey said Maine the outside legal firms would help “expand the capacity” of his office as it pursues potential cases against PFAS manufacturers. State lawmakers and the Mills administration recently earmarked $60 million to address PFAS contamination, largely in agricultural settings. But state officials as well as agricultural and environmental advocates acknowledge that even that large sum will fall far short of “making whole” the farmers and homeowners whose land or water is polluted.

"It's my hope that we are close to providing that legal roadmap for how we are going to play our part in holding accountable and hopefully getting resources to support these efforts to clean up the chemical mess, the PFAS mess that these manufacturers have provided,” Frey said. “So we are very close to locking up the outside counsel and providing that roadmap as to how we will be able to hold accountable in a court of law the manufacturers of those dangerous chemicals.”

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is in the process of testing more than 700 sites around the state that are considered at higher risk of PFAS pollution because they were licensed to receive municipal sludge from sources that may have contained the chemicals. Not all of those sites actually received sludge. But numerous farms have either shut down or suspended operations after finding contamination.

Frey said his aim is to litigate the case in Maine courts. There are also federal cases pending against PFAS manufacturers.