3M to pay at least $10.3 billion as major PFAS settlement reached

factory on a body of water

Chemical manufacturing company 3M announced it has agreed to pay at least $10.3 billion in lawsuit settlements over contamination of water systems from PFAS, harmful chemical compounds the water sector has been cracking down on.

If approved by the court, it would be the largest water contamination settlement in U.S. history, according to SL Environmental Law Group, and another step toward ensuring drinking water is safe from PFAS. The class-action suit would pay between $10.3 and $12.5 billion over 13 years to water providers in the multidistrict litigation in response to cases over PFAS contamination from aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF).

The 3M settlement comes on the heels of a similar settlement earlier this month on behalf of DuPont and two of its spinoff companies that would create a separate $1.185 billion fund for PFAS impacts to water systems.

According to the Associated Press, the 3M settlement would also settle a case scheduled for trial earlier this month involving a claim by Stuart, Florida. The City of Stuart is one of about 300 communities that have filed similar suits against companies that produced firefighting foam or the PFAS it contained, said the AP.

AFFF chemicals have been used for decades to extinguish chemical or petroleum fires at military bases, airports, and industrial facilities, and have been used by local frefighters. When ATFF is discharged, it can make its way into the soil, surface water and groundwater. There are also many cases in the MDL claiming PFAS contamination from a mix of both AFFF and other PFAS-containing products, which could have entered water supplies from wastewater treatment plants, landfills or other local sources.

In 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5), which added 29 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds to the list of regulated contaminants. Public water systems serving between 3,300 and 10,000 people are required to complete sampling no later than 2025, and systems with detectable levels of PFAS in at least one supply source would be eligible for a share of the up to $12.5 billion in funds provided in the proposed class action settlement. 

“The 3M settlement is incredibly significant, as it represents a huge stride toward securing funds for water systems across the country to offset the high costs of PFAS contamination,” said Ken Sansone, partner at SL Environmental Law, one in a small group of firms leading the AFFF multi-district litigation efforts. “We are dedicated to ensuring taxpayers are not bearing the burden of costly remediation efforts and that those who polluted are held accountable.”

“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.

Recent Action on PFAS

In March 2023, following much anticipation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its first-ever proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” If finalized, the proposal would regulate PFOA and PFOS – two of the most common types of PFAS – as individual contaminants to 4 parts per trillion, and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals – as a mixture.

If finalized, the MCLs are expected to bring financial challenges for water systems as drinking water utilities may be forced to spend billions on treatment and mitigation measures despite some of the federal assistance.

Recently, Sansone told WF&M that taking legal action against PFAS manufacturers can in fact pay off in the end.

“I think there are some historical examples that prove that this model of bringing lawsuits against the manufacturers to help recoup or offset treatment costs actually works,” he says, citing a lawsuit by the State of New Hampshire brought against Exxon Mobil and other oil companies for MTBE contamination of groundwater. In that case, hundreds of millions in damages eventually went into a fund that water systems could then access.” Sansone said he anticipates similar action on PFAS, especially since those funds could help offset increased water rates that may comes as result of utilities needing to bolster treatment measures in response to the PFAS MCLs.

“My strong feeling is that the availability of those kinds of funds has at least stopped rates from going up a lot more,” he says. “We’ve also represented dozens of individual water systems that have sued that manufacturer of other products that have caused contamination, and they’ve been able to take that money and use it to offset treatment plant costs.

“We would encourage water systems that have detected PFAS, at any level, to look carefully at the proposed class action settlements,” Sansone added.

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