Manufacturing giant 3M has agreed to pay up to $12.5 billion to settle hundreds of lawsuits alleging its “forever chemicals” have contaminated cities’ drinking water.
The settlement, reached Thursday, will serve to rid public water systems across the United States of harmful chemicals that are believed to have leaked from the company’s fire-fighting foam.
About 300 municipalities, from Philadelphia to San Diego, say PFAS chemicals in fire-fighting foam leach into drinking water.
The foam used PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been associated with cancers and other diseases. PFAS have been found in thousands of other household products.
3M’s decision to resolve the national class action lawsuit comes as companies in various industries seek alternatives to PFAS and regulations clamp down on their use.
3M has agreed to pay up to $12.5 billion to settle hundreds of lawsuits related to ‘eternal chemicals’ in the water supply
Fire-fighting foam used PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been linked to cancers and other diseases
3M has been manufacturing and using harmful chemicals since the 1940s and using them in its firefighter foam since the 1960s.
They are called forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment.
PFAS have also been used in many everyday items, including water bottles and duct tape.
Mike Roman, chief executive of 3M, called the proposed settlement, which does not include an admission of liability, “an important step forward for 3M.” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Roman also insisted that the company is investing in water filtration technology and is committed to meeting its commitment to end PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025.
The deal, which would see 3M pay between $10.5 billion and $12.5 billion over 13 years, still needs court approval.
If certain conditions are not met, 3M said it was ready to defend itself in court.
Lawyers for the towns said the settlement would help municipalities and water providers across the country upgrade treatment systems to filter out PFOS, a type of PFAS that 3M has used in fire-fighting foam for decades and has been found in drinking water nationwide.
3M has been making and using harmful chemicals since the 1940s and are found in everyday household items, including plastic water bottles.
Duct tape is among the household items that contain harmful PFAS chemicals
“Water is a basic necessity, and by holding 3M accountable for PFOS contamination, we are strengthening the right of every American to clean, safe drinking water,” said Paul Napoli, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
More than 4,000 lawsuits involving fire-fighting foam containing PFAS have been consolidated in federal court in Charleston, SC
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first federal limits on six types of PFAS in drinking water in March.
The move could force water systems serving up to 94 million people to install expensive treatment systems.
The tentative agreement was announced just three weeks after a judge postponed a landmark lawsuit between 3M and a Florida city that alleged the company was responsible for drinking water contamination.
Judge Richard Gergel of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina has given both sides more time to negotiate a settlement and the proposed agreement is subject to his approval.
The lawsuit filed by Stuart, Florida, had been chosen as the indicator for the water system cases.
The city claimed its water systems had been infiltrated by foam containing chemicals made by 3M for decades.
Stuart sued 3M for $115 million to recoup the cost of installing and operating a filtration system over the next 40 years to remove chemicals and clean up contaminated soil.
Mike Mortell, Stuart’s town attorney, said he’s grateful the two sides were able to reach a resolution.
He added that city officials would hold a meeting on Friday to discuss ratifying the bylaw.
“The city is very pleased to have played a role in resolving this issue for all water providers,” Mortell said.
3M said that “PFAS are safely manufactured and used in many modern products” and that their decision to end manufacturing of the chemicals by the end of 2025 is due to increased regulations regarding their presence in the environment.