TRAVERSE, Mich., (AP) - Chemical manufacturer 3M Co. said it will pay at least $10,3 billion to settle lawsuits regarding the contamination of public drinking water in many U.S. cities with compounds that are used for firefighting foams and a variety of consumer products.
The agreement would compensate water providers who have been polluted by per-and polyfluorinated chemicals, collectively known as PFAS. PFAS is a class of chemicals that are used in products like clothing and cookware, which are nonstick and resistant to water and grease.
The PFAS chemicals are referred to as "forever chemicals" because they do not degrade in the environment. They have been linked with a number of health issues, including liver damage, immune system problems and certain cancers.
In drinking water across the country, these compounds are detected in varying concentrations. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed strict limits for two types of chemicals, PFOA, and PFOS. It also said that it would regulate four other chemicals. The water providers will be responsible for monitoring the systems of their water for chemicals.
The settlement would resolve a case which was set for trial earlier in the month. It involved a claim from Stuart, Florida. Stuart is one of approximately 300 communities who have filed similar lawsuits against companies who produced firefighting spray or the PFAS contained within it.
3M Chairman Mike Roman said that the deal was a'significant step forward' and builds on the company’s decision to phase out PFOA/PFOS in 2020 and its investments in state-of-the art water filtration technology in our chemical manufacturing facilities. He said that the company, based out of St. Paul in Minnesota, would stop all PFAS production before 2025.
According to Dallas-based attorney Scott Summy who is one of the leading attorneys for those suing 3M, and other manufacturers, the settlement could be as high as $12,5 billion if enough public water systems are tested by the EPA in the next 3 years.
He said that the payment would cover the costs of testing and filtering PFAS in systems where they have been detected.
Summy stated that the result of this is that millions more Americans will live healthier lives with PFAS removed from their water.
Three other companies, DuPont de Nemours Inc., Chemours Co., and Corteva Inc. (spinoffs) reached a $1.18-billion deal earlier this month to settle PFAS complaints from about 300 water providers. A number of other companies, including airports, training facilities for firefighter and well owners, as well as states, have also sued.
These cases are pending at the U.S. District Court of Charleston, South Carolina. Judge Richard Gergel oversees thousands of complaints alleging PFAS damage. The trial for a lawsuit filed by the city Stuart, Florida was originally scheduled to start this month, but it has been delayed in order to give time to further settlement negotiations.
Summy stated that the majority of lawsuits stemmed from firefighter exercises conducted at airports and military bases in the U.S., which used foams laced high levels of PFAS.
He said that the court must approve of the 3M settlement.
According to 3M, the company assisted the U.S. Navy in developing foams that contained PFAS chemicals back in the 1960s.
The company stated that the tool was a life-saving device, which helped fight dangerous fires such as those caused by jetfuel.
3M stated that its participation in settlement is 'not an admission of responsibility'. If it were rejected in court, "3M will continue to defend themselves."
Summy admitted that the cost of cleaning PFAS out of U.S. drinking water systems could end up being much higher than what was agreed in settlements.
He said, 'I don't think anyone can predict the final cost.' "But I think this will make a big dent in those costs... and you won't have litigate for ten years or more."