A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
Attorney General Aaron Frey handed down long-awaited lawsuits against 3M and DuPont on Wednesday, putting Maine among more than a dozen states that have sued over the public health crisis being discovered around “forever chemicals.”
Lawsuits over the proliferation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are nothing new. There were 6,400 lawsuits on the topic between 2006 and 2022, according to a Bloomberg News count. But Maine is at the beginning of the legal movement on one account.
Among states, only Minnesota and Delaware have won settlements from either one of the giant companies. Maine’s lawsuit is different from them in one key respect, and DuPont’s odd structure could be a hurdle.
Degrees of separation: Minnesota and Delaware had more direct connections to the industry. Minnesota sued 3M for $5 billion in 2010 over the disposal of PFAS in the Twin Cities area. The lawsuit faced long delays until it was settled for $850 million in 2018. Delaware won $50 million in 2021 from DuPont and spinoff companies that operate there.
Maine is more of a bystander in its lawsuits against the companies, couching itself as a victim of PFAS’ proliferation while citing links to cancer and other health problems. It mirrors the tactics used by many states in lawsuits over the last year, including those in California and Illinois.
The lawsuit is based on reams of historic evidence that the companies knew decades ago that the products were toxic in humans and buried evidence that they were causing health problems and building up in the environment.
What they’re saying: 3M said Wednesday that it has “acted responsibly” on chemicals, while DuPont’s parent company cited a complex merger with Dow to say that the current iteration has never manufactured PFAS. The historic company phased them out around the turn of the century.
The state’s lawsuit anticipated this argument and singled out DuPont on separate charges related to the merger, saying it was an attempt to shield assets from lawsuits like this.
On the hook: The liability for the two companies could be staggering. 3M alone may have to pay $30 billion because it both made the raw chemicals and finished products containing them, Bloomberg reported. A recent disclosure contained 15 pages detailing PFAS-related problems issues for the company.
Maine is seeking to recoup the full cost of the response to the public health crisis here, although there is no estimate of that in the lawsuit. The result could be the largest environmental settlement ever here after one conditionally approved last year related to mercury pollution in the Penobscot River.
Fighting these chemical companies — particularly DuPont — could be long and complicated even though Maine is doing it alongside many other states.