In this Dec. 20, 2020, file photo, Attorney General Aaron Frey waves to state senators at the Augusta Civic Center. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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As a Bangor Daily News story outlined last week, Maine’s recently initiated PFAS legal fight with chemical companies 3M and DuPont could be long and complex. But it is absolutely worth fighting.

Maine has taken warranted steps in recent years to identify and mitigate contamination from these perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals.” These important efforts come with many challenges and costs. And those costs should be borne by those responsible for introducing PFAS, which can persist in the environment for a long time and are associated with higher risks of certain diseases and health conditions.

We are neither lawyers nor scientists, but the legal and scientific record seems fairly clear — even if it has some complexities. As the recent BDN reporting noted, historical evidence shows that these companies knew decades ago about health and environmental problems with PFAS but failed to share  t hat information with regulators or the public. 3M has already settled with the state of Minnesota for $850 million related to PFAS disposal, while Dupont and related companies settled with the state of Delaware for $50 million.

While these previous cases and settlements are not exactly the same as Maine’s situation, all of this would seem to add up to a strong case for the state, even if it will take a long time and significant resources to litigate or settle.

“The defendant manufacturers have willfully introduced toxic chemicals into Maine’s environment in pursuit of profit for shareholders,” Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a March 29 statement announcing the lawsuits against 3M and DuPont. “Maine citizens and the state are left to manage the harm these chemicals cause in our natural resources, our animals, our food, and our bodies, and the state is working overtime to manage the fallout. PFAS manufacturers must account for the environmental, health and economic damage caused by their actions.”

Gov. Janet Mills, who previously served as attorney general, welcomed the lawsuits.

“Evidence indicates that, for many years, DuPont, 3M and the other defendant manufacturers knew that PFAS posed serious risks to human health and the environment but hid that knowledge from the public while they lined their pockets at our expense. We will defend the people of Maine in the face of this recklessness,” Mills said in a statement. “I applaud Attorney General Frey for pursuing this litigation, and my administration will continue to work closely with him to protect the health of our state and our citizens.”

DuPont has called the complaints against it “without merit” and 3M has said it “acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS” in respective statements.

“3M will continue to remediate PFAS and address litigation by defending ourselves in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate,” the company said in a  December  statement. That quote itself is telling, given its reference to the possibility of some sort of settlement.

If the experiences from previous settlements are any guide, like the nearly $200 million agreement related to the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington, this process will take some time. But, again, it is worth the time.

If the state does reach some sort of PFAS settlement or win in court, it will be critical to ensure that any funds are put back into directly dealing with PFAS impacts. Maine has worked hard to address PFAS contamination, and these chemical companies should be helping to pay for the needed assessments and mitigation.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...