Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, right, faces reporters as Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker, left, looks on during a news conference, in Boston, Thursday, July 8, 2021. Credit: Steven Senne / AP

BOSTON — Massachusetts has sued more than a dozen companies involved in the manufacture or marketing of so-called forever chemicals, alleging they knowingly polluted the environment and endangered public health, state Attorney General Maura Healey said Wednesday.

The companies have known about the dangers of PFAS chemicals — found in firefighting foam and consumer products — for years and violated both federal and state environmental laws, she said at a news conference.

“For decades, these manufacturers knew about the serious risks highly toxic PFAS chemicals pose to public health, the environment, and our drinking water — yet they did nothing about it,” Healey said.

The chemicals have polluted more than 126 public drinking water systems in 86 Massachusetts communities, the state says. Those communities now face multimillion-dollar price tags to clean up the chemicals, Healey said.

“We’re holding these manufacturers accountable for their deception,” she said.

In addition, the chemicals have contaminated lakes, streams, rivers and coastal zones including Cape Cod — areas critical for marine life, the suit says.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry group that counts many of the companies as members, declined to comment.

PFAS in maine

PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are used in firefighting foams, nonstick frying pans, water-repellent fabrics, stain-resistant rugs and other products.

They are called “forever chemicals” because their chemical bonds are so strong that they don’t degrade, or do so only slowly in the environment, and remain in a person’s bloodstream indefinitely.

They have been associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight.

Firefighters across Massachusetts have been experienceing an epidemic of occupational cancer, said Rich MacKinnon, president of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of Massachusetts, which represents about 12,000 firefighters.

“We see this as a great step in the fight against occupational cancer,” he said of the suit.

The suit, filed in federal court in South Carolina, will likely be consolidated with hundreds of similar lawsuits filed by state attorneys general, municipalities and public water districts, Healey said.

The defendants are 13 manufacturers and two companies Healey alleges shielded assets that should be available to remedy the damages caused by PFAS contamination.

Maine is expecting to see hundreds of lawsuits over the effects of forever chemicals, after consumer advocate Erin Brockovich visited the state earlier this month. Brockovich became known for her work with various contamination lawsuits, including a groundwater contamination lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric in California that was settled in 1996.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey also is preparing to sue the manufacturers of forever chemicals. He is seeking a private law firm to handle the complex litigation.

The Biden administration in October announced efforts to better regulate the chemicals.

Story by Mark Pratt. BDN writer Leela Stockley contributed to this report.