Federal court finalizes 'forever chemical' settlement between 3M, water systems for billions

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A federal district court judge has granted final approval to a multi-billion-dollar settlement between public water suppliers affected by “forever chemicals” and the company 3M, the parties announced Monday.

Per the terms of the agreement, the Minnesota-based chemical manufacturer will pay these utilities between $10.5 billion and $12.5 billion, depending on the extent of contamination and adhering to a payment schedule that runs through 2036.

The settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in South Carolina on Friday, pertains to multi-district litigation (MDL) that consolidated thousands of cases against the producers of a type of firefighting foam that contains these chemicals, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Releases of this “aqueous film-forming foam” — some of which was manufactured by 3M and has long served to fight fuel-based fires at military bases, civilian airports and industrial sites — have been affecting adjacent water systems and communities for decades.

Notorious for their ability to persist in the body and the environment, PFAS have been linked to cancers and other serious illnesses. There are thousands of types of PFAS — substances found not only in the firefighting foam but also in industrial waste and a variety of household products.

“This is yet another important step forward for 3M as we continue to deliver on our priorities,” 3M chairman and CEO Mike Roman said in a statement. “The final approval of this settlement and continued progress toward exiting all PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025 will further our efforts to reduce risk and uncertainty as we move forward.”

The finalization of this settlement comes two months after a similar but smaller, $1.18 billion agreement with DuPont de Nemours, as well as its spinoff firms Chemours and Corteva.

While the settlements between the chemical manufacturers and the public water systems have now been finalized, the broader MDL is far from over. Other complaints, sorted into broad categories, include municipal property owners, personal injuries, medical monitoring cases and federal government challenges.

But for now, the class counsel from the AFFF MDL Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee — attorneys Elizabeth Fegan, Michael London, Paul Napoli, Joe Rice and Scott Summy — expressed their approval of the agreement, noting in a joint statement that water providers “will now have the funds they need to begin fixing the harm PFAS chemicals have caused to our nation’s drinking water.”

“Our goal throughout this litigation has been to hold those who polluted our public water systems accountable for their actions and for the harm inflicted upon millions of Americans,” the statement said. “No amount of money can fully compensate for the damage done, but we believe this settlement is fair and reasonable.”

The attorneys stressed that while they “are pleased with this agreement, several defendants remain in the litigation and have yet to answer for their role in this contamination crisis.”

“We will continue to press forward in court with the health and well-being of our nation and its people as our top priority,” they added.

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