Chemical manufacturer 3M to pay $10.3 billion over contamination of drinking water

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Chemical manufacturer 3M has announced it will pay $10.3 billion to resolve lawsuits by public drinking water providers over alleged contamination by its “forever chemicals.”

The $10.3 billion would be paid to the water providers over the course of 13 years, helping to detect and clean up any “forever chemicals,” so called due to their longevity and lack of natural degradation, in water supplies.

The 3M settlement on Thursday came weeks after DuPont de Nemours Inc. and spinoff companies Chemours Co. and Corteva Inc. reached a $1.18 billion settlement in the same suit.

The chemicals, specifically perfluorinated and polyfluorinated substances or PFAS, are used in nonstick and waterproof cookware and clothing, as well as in fire retardants like foam.

Pollution of water by these chemicals has been linked to immune system damage, liver issues, developmental defects and some cancers. Many of the lawsuits stem from locations that have seen a lot of firefighting foam used in training, such as military bases or airports.

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed its first-ever PFAS limits, affecting the usage of six such substances and aiming to establish hard limits for their presence in water supplies.

Two chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), would be limited to four parts per trillion, while solutions containing four other chemicals would need to register at 1.0 or lower on the EPA Hazard Index.

The $10.3 billion settlement is the largest drinking water settlement in U.S. history, a lead attorney for the at least 16 plaintiffs in the suit against 3M said.

“PFAS is the biggest chemical threat to America’s collective public drinking water and has been found in public water systems throughout the country affecting millions of Americans. 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,” attorney Scott Summy of the Baron & Budd law firm said in a statement.

While 3M touted the settlement as being for up to $10.3 billion, Baron & Budd listed a $12.5 billion maximum payout amount.

3M has not admitted liability for the pollution or the problems associated with the chemicals by settling, and intends to defend itself in court if the settlement is struck down. 3M, also makers of Scotch tape and Post-it notes, plans to stop making PFAS.

“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,” 3M CEO Mike Roman said in a statement.

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