Litigation Continues to Push the Needle for PFAS Accountability
U.S. conglomerate, 3M, one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturers, has agreed to pay at least $10.3 billion to settle lawsuits related to contamination of water systems with PFAS.
If approved, the funds would be paid out over 13 years, compensating public water providers for pollution related to per- and polyfluorinated substances, better known collectively as PFAS, or “forever chemicals” — a class chemicals used in such common consumer goods as nonstick pans and water resistant clothing.
According to one the lead attorney for the claimants, Scott Summy, most of the lawsuits have stemmed from firefighter training exercises at airports, military bases and other sites around the U.S. that repeatedly used foams laced with high concentrations of PFAS.
“These are often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because they are resistant to degradation in the environment, including within human bodies,” said Dr. Charlie Rolsky, Senior Research Scientist at the Shaw Institute in Blue Hill, Maine. “The risks are immense as they are linked to a variety of health issues, including increased incidence of cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions.”
These risks are exacerbated by the fact that recent studies have indicated that PFAS pollutes the drinking water of over 200 million people in the U.S., and has been found in the blood of 99% of Americans tested. In addition, it’s also estimated that PFAS is costing our global society over $17 trillion per year.
The settlement comes after two decades of 3M facing thousands of lawsuits directly related to its products containing PFAS. These lawsuits claimed that 3M knew PFAS caused major human health problems and contaminated US drinking water systems.
“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,” 3M chairman and CEO Mike Roman said in the statement released by the company.
3M has also pledged to stop producing all of its PFAS chemicals by the end of 2025.
“Listen, it’s a move in the right direction, but much work is still to be done,” said Rolsky. “Let’s acknowledge the effort by 3M, but at the same time let’s not applaud them for simply doing the right thing. Instead, let’s give a big high five to those that brought the lawsuits against them – those that have suffered at the hand of PFAS – using litigation as tool for change.”
This proposed settlement comes after a similar, but smaller, deal was reached with three other companies – DuPont de Nemours Inc. and spinoffs Chemours Co. and Corteva Inc. That settlement awarded $1.18 billion to resolve PFAS complaints from about 300 drinking water providers.
It also comes on the heels of the Biden-Harris administration’s EPA proposing to establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS chemicals known to occur in drinking water. The EPA also issued health advisories that said the chemicals are much more hazardous to human health than scientists originally thought and are probably more dangerous at levels thousands of times lower than previously stated.