Sara Dunne, the technical director for Maine Laboratories in Norridgewock, demonstrates how samples are tested for PFAS. Credit: Mehr Sher / BDN

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As Maine, other states and the federal government increasingly understand and wrestle with the costs of PFAS contamination, there should be little doubt that the manufacturers of these so-called “forever chemicals” need to bear the burden of these costs. So we were encouraged when our state, though the Maine attorney general, joined the legal fight against multiple chemical companies.

The Maine AG’s office, along with 21 other attorneys general across the country, are also making the right call in opposing a potential multi-billion dollar settlement with manufacturer 3M related to PFAS contamination of public drinking water. While some sort of settlement is the likely and necessary vehicle to help deal with the impacts of these chemicals, which according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may lead to a wide range of health issues, the currently proposed agreement is flawed.

As the objecting group of AGs argued in a recent brief to the U.S. District Court in South Carolina, the more than $10 billion settlement as currently structured could actually shift liability from 3M to public water systems and taxpayers. The potential settlement also doesn’t provide enough time or clarity for individual water providers to determine if their gains in the settlement would actually cover their PFAS costs and obligations, according to the attorneys general.

“Consequently, a class member could easily be required to pay more to 3M via its indemnity obligation than it received through the Settlement,” the bipartisan group wrote in its brief filed on July 26. “For example, suppose a cancer cluster develops in a community because 3M’s PFAS contaminated the public water system, and a victim wins a judgment against 3M. 3M could invoke this provision of the Settlement, as currently written, to seek full indemnification from the entity that owns the public water system, even if the amount indemnified far exceeds the system’s award under the Settlement. The results could well be ruinous for communities because many public water systems are owned by public entities.”

This scenario should obviously be avoided.

According to the Associated Press, a 3M spokesperson said “it is not unusual for there to be objections regarding significant settlement agreements” and that the company “will continue to work cooperatively to address questions about the terms of the resolution.”

$10 billion is a lot of money, but given the increasingly understood scale of PFAS water contamination in Maine and nationally, this likely won’t be enough. 3M, along with other manufacturers not involved in this particular possible settlement, should not be given what seems like an easy out when the full scope of the impact from PFAS contamination continues to grow.

As we’ve said before, these so-called “forever chemicals” might as well be called “everywhere chemicals.” Increased testing in Maine has delivered concerning results, including here in Bangor wastewater. A recent study from the U.S. Geological Survey found that at least 45 percent of the country’s public and private tap water has at least one type of PFAS.

A settlement in the billions of dollars (if not more) may be the eventual outcome in this and other cases, but the current proposal relating to 3M could actually cause more problems than it could solve. The Maine Attorney General’s office and officials from around the country are justified in their current opposition.

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...