FILE - ME Aaron Frey 12-5-2018

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, at the time a state representative, acknowledges applause Dec. 5, 2018, after he was elected to be Maine's next attorney general at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey is looking to hire private law firms to help handle civil litigation filed by citizens over "forever chemicals" contamination.

Frey's office said it is soliciting "qualified proposals" to assist with an expected deluge of legal challenges in coming years over contamination involving polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which have been used to make products from nonstick frying pans to firefighting foam.

"There is strong evidence that these chemicals are harmful and threaten Mainers' health and well-being," Frey said in a statement. "It is important to hold manufacturers of these chemicals accountable for contamination they are responsible for. This is an important first step in that process."

Gov. Janet Mills recently signed a bill approved by the state Legislature extending the statute of limitations for private lawsuits involving PFAS contamination in soil and water systems and private drinking water wells to six years. The move is expected to increase the number of legal challenges against companies that caused the pollution.

Mills also signed bills banning aerial spraying of PFAS chemicals and requiring the Department of Agriculture to conduct research on crops that can be safely grown on contaminated farms.

In the next two years, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will be testing 700 other locations. In 2023, the agency will begin reviewing reports of PFAS use in products sold in Maine under a new state law that requires manufacturers to disclose use of the compounds once used in products ranging from rain coats and firefighting foam to nonstick pans.

PFAS have been dubbed "forever chemicals" because they accumulate in the human body and can take thousands of years to degrade.

Research has found potential links between high levels of PFAS and illnesses, ranging from kidney cancer to high cholesterol and problems in pregnancies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set its PFAS standards three years ago, classifying the compounds as an "emerging contaminant" linked to liver cancer and other serious health problems.

Dozens of states are weighing proposals to eliminate PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and other products, in addition to setting limits on the level of contaminants in drinking water.

There are currently no federal standards for PFAS in drinking water, but guidelines set a combined limit of 70 ppt.

In Congress, a bill was recently introduced that would add PFAS to the federal list of hazardous substances and set a national drinking water standard, among other changes.

PCBs were banned in 1979 but are still found in some foreign-made products, such as window caulking, floor finishes, thermal insulation and electrical equipment.

Like PFAS, the toxic compounds don't break down and can enter the food chain by contaminating agricultural crops.

Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins are among a group of lawmakers that have asked the Biden administration to divert pandemic relief funds to address PFAS and other pollution.

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