Attorney General Aaron Frey waves
Then- Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor, acknowledges applause after he was elected to be Maine's next attorney general, Wednesday, Dec., 5, 2018, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine is getting closer to filing a lawsuit aimed at manufacturers of so-called forever chemicals, something that is likely to be a massive and years-long undertaking for the state.

Attorney General Aaron Frey said at the Maine Democratic Party convention on Saturday that his office is working with Gov. Janet Mills to prepare legal action to “hold these chemical manufacturers to account” and steps could be announced within weeks.

Nothing was imminent on Monday. The state is still working on securing outside lawyers to handle the case. But Frey’s signal was a major step, with the attorney general saying Monday he believed the last time his office used outside counsel was in negotiations on the landmark multi-state tobacco settlement of 1998, which sends $46 million to Maine each year.

It has been months in the making. Such a lawsuit is allowed under a measure passed last year by the Legislature to hire outside lawyers and pay them using settlement funds. In September, the state asked law firms to submit proposals for the work.

The lawsuit may target makers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — and similar chemicals long used in various industries. Concern around the products, which take decades to break down and are linked to conditions including cancer, has increased in Maine in recent years after being found in farm products, wildlife, fish and drinking water.

It could be a big undertaking: The state’s request for proposals notes the law firms could be responsible for consulting on “one or more lawsuits” and eventually handling all aspects of PFAS litigation in the state.

While millions could come to aid those affected by the chemicals as a result of such a lawsuit, results could take a long time. The Department of Environmental Protection is sampling hundreds of sites where the most PFAS and similar chemicals could be found through 2023.

Gov. Janet Mills and lawmakers set aside $60 million of a $1.2 billion spending package this year to pay for PFAS relief. The Legislature has also banned the practice of spreading sludge as fertilizer and the use of chemicals in pesticides by 2030.

By next year, it will be illegal to sell carpets, rugs and fabric treatments with PFAS in them. Any product with the chemical intentionally added must be reported to the state by next year as well.

BDN writers Michael Shepherd and Judy Harrison contributed to this report.