Just outside Bangor, Maine, over 500 students, faculty, and staff arrive at Hermon High School daily. However, since November, they have been unable to drink the water. All the fountains are sealed with plastic bags, and bottles of water are now being used. A water filtration system will be installed during the summer.
“We’re very concerned,” stated Hermon School District Superintendent Micah Grant.
The cause of concern is that the school’s water recently tested above the state’s safety limit for PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.” Even minimal exposure to PFAS in drinking water can pose serious health risks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re not fully comprehending why it’s in our water and at the levels we’re seeing,” Grant expressed.
Hermon High School is just one example of PFAS contamination affecting the community, according to Maine’s attorney general, Aaron Frey. Groundwater in towns and municipalities across the state, including military facilities and farms, has also been found to contain these chemicals.
“There are farmers who had to euthanize their livestock because of the chemical contamination,” Frey revealed.
Maine has joined a growing number of states, including New Mexico, Maryland, and Rhode Island, in filing lawsuits against chemical manufacturers, claiming significant harm to residents and natural resources. The lawsuits allege that companies like 3M and DuPont created these chemicals and were aware of their dangerous and long-lasting properties.
Numerous other states have also filed litigation against PFAS manufacturers, with some already reaching settlements. For example, Minnesota settled with 3M for $850 million, and Delaware settled with DuPont for $50 million.
A bellwether trial is anticipated in federal court, with Wall Street eagerly awaiting its outcome. Stuart, Florida, is suing 3M, alleging that firefighting foam chemicals produced by the company contaminated their water supply.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals used to create products resistant to heat, stains, and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, these synthetic chemicals do not break down in the environment and have been linked to serious health risks.
While manufacturers have announced plans to reduce or cease production of PFAS, concerns and lawsuits continue to mount. 3M, in particular, faces substantial financial risk, with RBC Capital estimating its liability to be between $20 billion and $25 billion.
The Biden administration has allocated $10 billion toward addressing PFAS contamination, and the EPA has introduced new standards for drinking water. The designation of PFAS compounds as hazardous chemicals could lead to further litigation and prompt upgrades to filtration systems.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to find safer substitutes to PFAS and develop technologies for treating exposed areas. Grassroots organizations are advocating for reduced chemical exposure, raising awareness among farmers, and holding manufacturers accountable for their impact.
Adam Nordell, an advocate for the nonprofit Defend Our Health, experienced firsthand the devastating effects of PFAS contamination on his farm in Unity, Maine. The land was spread with wastewater treatment sludge in the 1990s, unbeknownst to farmers at the time. Now, Nordell and others are working to reduce people’s exposure to toxic chemicals and seek compensation from chemical manufacturers.