Thursday 29 June 2023

3M agrees to $10.3 billion settlement over allegations of contaminating public drinking water with “forever chemicals”

 Industrial conglomerate 3M Co. has reached a $10.3 billion settlement agreement with various public water systems to settle numerous claims of contamination of public drinking water with "forever chemicals."

Considered the "largest drinking water settlement in American history," the latest agreement will include a present value commitment of up to $10.3 billion payable over 13 years, the chemical manufacturer announced on June 22.

According to the firm's securities filing, 3M would pay to remediate public water systems that have tested positive for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under the proposed settlement, which must be approved by a federal court. The decision would resolve the case that had been scheduled for trial earlier this month over a 2018 lawsuit brought by the city of Stuart, Florida. As per the city, 3M made or sold firefighting foams containing PFAS that polluted local soil and groundwater and sought more than $100 million for filtration and remediation.

"We have reached the largest drinking water settlement in American history, which will be used to help filter PFAS from drinking water that is served to the public," said Scott Summy, a lead attorney for the water systems suing 3M and other polluting manufacturers, in a statement. "The result is that millions of Americans will have healthier lives without PFAS in their drinking water."

Summy added that the settlement is still subject to the approval of the court. Furthermore, 3M's decision to agree to the deal also does not represent an "admission of liability."

"If the agreement is not approved by the court or certain agreed terms are not fulfilled, 3M is prepared to continue to defend itself in the litigation," said the company in a statement. "3M also will continue to address other PFAS litigation by defending itself in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate."

3M is currently facing a multitude of lawsuits on PFAS contamination that were not part of the latest settlement. Among the lawsuits are those filed by people with personal injury and property damage claims. U.S. states have also filed lawsuits citing damages to natural resources such as rivers and lakes.

PFAS are used in a wide range of products, including non-stick cookware, stain- and water-resistant fabrics and carpets, as well as cleaning products, paints, water repellents and fire-fighting foams. High levels of PFAS have been linked to health issues, including various cancers, hormonal dysfunction, reproductive issues and adverse effects on immune function. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called PFAS an "urgent public health and environmental issue."  

Settlement could cost 3M as much as $140 billion

The deal followed a similar agreement with three other major chemical companies – Chemours, DuPont and Corteva – all of whom agreed on June 2 to pay $1.19 billion into a fund that will be used to remove PFAS from public drinking water systems.

Furthermore, the initial settlement with the said firms may not be the end of the costs for those companies. The deal, which also requires approval by a judge, would resolve lawsuits involving water systems that already had detectable levels of PFAS contamination, as well as those required to monitor for contamination by the EPA.

However, it does not include some other water systems and it would not resolve lawsuits resulting from claims of environmental damage or personal injury from individuals already sickened by the chemicals. And state attorneys general have filed new suits, some as recently as this week, over the matter.

The New York Times reported that 3M's liability could be even greater, despite its denial. In an online presentation in March, financial research company CreditSights estimated that PFAS litigation could ultimately cost 3M more than $140 billion, though it said a lower figure was more likely.

3M has previously announced that by the end of 2025, it plans to cease all PFAS manufacturing and will work to end the use of PFAS in its products.

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