3M Announces $10B PFAS Settlement

On June 22, 2023, 3M Company announced a momentous $10.3 billion settlement in its mass torts lawsuit with thousands of plaintiffs over the company’s alleged contamination of municipal drinking water by per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals.”

Subject to court approval, the agreement:

  • Provides funding for public water systems (PWS) across the country for PFAS treatment technologies without the need for further litigation;
  • Provides funding for eligible PWSs that may detect PFAS in the future;
  • Resolves current and future drinking water claims by PWSs related to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and all other PFAS, including those that are included as a portion of the Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) multidistrict litigation based in Charleston, South Carolina; and
  • Provides funding for PWSs nationwide to conduct testing for PFAS.

PFAS “have been detected at varying levels in drinking water around the nation,” AP News says. “The Environmental Protection Agency in March proposed strict limits on two common types, PFOA and PFOS, and said it wanted to regulate four others. Water providers would be responsible for monitoring their systems for the chemicals.

“The agreement would settle a case that was scheduled for trial earlier this month involving a claim by Stuart, Florida, one of about 300 communities that have filed similar suits against companies that produced firefighting foam or the PFAS it contained.”

“This is an important step forward for 3M, which builds on our actions that include our announced exit of PFOA and PFOS manufacturing more than 20 years ago, our more recent investments in state-of-the-art water filtration technology in our chemical manufacturing operations, and our announcement that we will exit all PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025,” said 3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman in the company press release.

“Under the terms of the settlement, 3M has agreed to contribute up to a present value of $10.3 billion, payable over 13 years. … Additional details will be included in 3M’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),” the company press release continues. “This agreement is not 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. 3M also will continue to address other PFAS litigation by defending itself in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate.”

If approved by the court, this settlement will be one of the largest mass tort deals recorded.

“The case at the heart of the lawsuits was brought by the city of Stuart, on Florida’s Gold Coast, which discovered it had harmful levels of PFAS in its water supply in 2016,” notes Grist. “Stuart officials traced the contamination to firefighting foam sold to the city by 3M for a decade in the late 1900s. The lawsuit sought to force 3M to pay for the cost of cleaning PFAS out of Stuart’s drinking water supply — but it was also selected to be a ‘bellwether’ case, serving as a litmus test for some 4,000 other plaintiffs with similar claims.”

The Grist article also says 1 in 20 Americans have PFAS in their drinking water, and the cost of filtering out the forever chemicals is more than $3.8 billion per year.

With the pending EPA crackdown on filtering PFAS from drinking water systems, money from the settlement, if approved, will provide much-needed funding to PWSs.

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