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Environment

3M to pay $850 million to settle fluorosurfactants lawsuit

Agreement with state of Minnesota comes just as trial was to start

by Marc S. Reisch
February 21, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 9

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Credit: 3M
3M's main campus in St. Paul, Minn.
Credit: 3M
3M's main campus in St. Paul, Minn.

3M has agreed to pay $850 million to the state of Minnesota to resolve a $5 billion lawsuit over drinking water contaminated with fluorochemicals such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). 3M resolved the case on Feb. 20, just as it was about to go to trial in state court.

The settlement comes in the form of what 3M calls a grant to the state for water quality and sustainability. The firm says the funds will be used to reduce perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in the region. 3M adds that it “does not believe there is a PFC-related health issue.”

Others do see health concerns. “The settlement is an enormously important advance to protect the health of over 67,000 Minnesotans ... who deserve clean and safe drinking water,” Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said in statement.

3M produced PFCs, including PFOA, at a plant in Cottage Grove, 16 km south of St. Paul. The firm says it ceased manufacturing PFOA and associated chemicals in 2008. Among PFOA’s uses was as a surfactant to make 3M’s Scotchgard stain repellent finishes for textiles.

About two dozen additional suits involving PFCs are pending against 3M, according to documents the firm filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The chemicals are persistent in the environment and are associated with health conditions such as thyroid disease and kidney cancer.

Other companies with PFC-related troubles include DuPont and Chemours. Both face suits from North Carolina residents over PFC-contaminated drinking water in the Cape Fear River. A year ago, the two agreed to pay $670 million to Ohio and West Virginia residents who claim they were sickened by contaminated water.

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