On June 22, chemical manufacturing giant 3M Co. reached a settlement agreement with attorneys representing 300 cities, towns and public water systems across the country over claims that the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances found in the company’s products were responsible for extensive contamination of a number of U.S cities’ drinking water systems. The substances, also known as PFAS or “forever chemicals”, do not degrade normally in the human body or the environment and have been linked to numerous health issues including increased cholesterol, birth defects, certain cancers and thyroid and liver damage. These forever chemicals can be found in firefighting foam used at airports and military bases around the country, as well as an array of consumer products such as waterproof clothing and non-stick cookware.
The approximately 4,000 contamination lawsuits resulted in the formation of multidistrict litigation MDL 2873- In re: Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. The settlement came on the eve of the first bellwether trial brought by the city of Stuart, FL, over claims that 3M firefighting foams had contaminated local groundwater and soil.
Under the terms of the agreement, 3M will pay at least $10.3 billion and as much as $12.5 billion over a 13 year period and will resolve current and future claims in two phases; the first phase will compensate the more than 5,000 water systems that have already detected PFAs in their drinking water systems and the second phase will be dedicated to communities who detect the chemicals in their water over the next three years. The funds are intended to assist affected communities with the costs of filtering the chemicals from their water systems and to institute testing where needed.
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency had proposed the first national standards on two types of the chemicals- PFOA and PFOs and had announced its intention to regulate an additional four. 3M had announced in 2020 its intention to end PFOs and PFOA manufacturing by the end of 2025.