3M has reached a tentative agreement to resolve about 4,000 lawsuits filed by public water utilities across the US over contamination of tap water with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Under the agreement, 3M would pay $10.3 billion over 13 years to public water suppliers that have detected PFAS in drinking water and to those that detect the chemicals in the future.
Most of the suits attribute the contamination to the use of firefighting foam containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). Those two PFAS are no longer manufactured in the US because of concerns about their toxicity, but the chemicals are slow to break down in the environment. The cases have been consolidated under multidistrict litigation pending in the US District Court for the District of South Carolina.
The agreement, which does not resolve personal injury suits, covers about 85–90% of the US water supply, according to estimates from the financial services firm Jefferies.
Water suppliers in the US are anxious to test for and clean up PFAS in drinking water in light of proposed regulation from the US Environmental Protection Agency that would set a limit of 4 parts per trillion each for PFOA and PFOS and regulate four other PFAS as a mixture.
“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,” 3M CEO Mike Roman says in a statement.
3M’s offer comes just weeks after Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva Agriscience agreed to provide $1.19 billion to a settlement fund to resolve the cases. The court has yet to approve the settlement agreements.
The settlements are not an admission of liability, the companies say. And if they are not approved by the court, 3M and the other chemical manufacturers say they are prepared to continue defending themselves in the litigation.