3M in $10 billion forever chemicals settlement

In the latest indication of the scale of an issue which has been described as the (re)insurance  market’s new asbestos, US chemical manufacturer 3M will pay some $10 billion to settle lawsuits in relation to so-called ‘forever chemicals”.

The lawsuit related to alleged contamination of US public drinking water systems with potentially harmful compounds used in firefighting foam and a host of consumer products, the company said.

The deal would compensate water providers for pollution with per- and polyfluorinated substances, known collectively as PFAS — a broad class of chemicals widely used for decades in a range of nonstick, water- and grease-resistant products such as clothing and cookware.

Described as ‘forever chemicals’because they don’t degrade naturally in the environment, PFAS have been linked to a variety of health problems, including liver and immune-system damage and some cancers.

The agreement would settle a case that was scheduled for trial earlier this month involving a claim by Stuart, Florida, one of about 300 communities that have filed similar suits against companies that produced firefighting foam or the PFAS it contained.

3M chairman Mike Roman said the deal was “an important step forward” that builds on the company’s decision in 2020 to phase out PFOA and PFOS and its investments in “state-of-the-art water filtration technology in our chemical manufacturing operations.” The company, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, will halt all PFAS production by the end of 2025, he said.

The settlement will be paid over 13 years and could reach as high as $12.5 billion, depending on how many public water systems detect PFAS during testing that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required in the next three years, said Dallas-based attorney Scott Summy, one of the lead attorneys for those suing 3M and other manufacturers.

The payment will help cover costs of filtering PFAS from systems where it’s been detected and testing others, he said.

“The result is that millions of Americans will have healthier lives without PFAS in their drinking water,” Summy said. The 3M settlement is subject to court approval.

3M said its participation in the settlement “is not an admission of liability” and said if it was rejected in court, “3M is prepared to continue to defend itself”.

The latest announcement follows the news earlier this month that three other companies — DuPont de Nemours and spinoffs Chemours and Corteva  had reached a $1.1 billion settlement to resolve PFAs complaints by some 300 drinking water providers.