3M’s ‘forever chemicals’ are an eternal public drinking water contaminant. Price tag: $10.5 billion to $12.5 billion

3M’s ‘forever chemicals’ are an eternal public drinking water contaminant. Price tag: $10.5 billion to $12.5 billion

Chemical manufacturer 3M will begin payments starting in the third quarter to many U.S. public drinking water systems as part of a multi-billion-dollar settlement over contamination with potentially harmful compounds used in firefighting foam and several consumer products, the company said.

St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M announced Monday that last year’s lawsuit settlement received final approval from the U.S. District Court in Charleston, South Carolina.

The agreement called for payouts through 2036. Depending on what additional contamination is found, the amount paid out will range from $10.5 billion to $12.5 billion.

“This is yet another important step forward for 3M as we continue to deliver on our priorities. 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,” 3M’s chairman and CEO, Mike Roman, said in a news release.

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

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

The compounds have been detected at varying levels in drinking water nationwide. The Environmental Protection Agency in March 2023 proposed strict limits on two common types, PFOA and PFOS, and said it wanted to regulate four others. Water providers would be responsible for monitoring their systems for the chemicals.

The 3M settlement first announced in June came in a lawsuit by Stuart, Florida, one of about 300 communities that had filed similar suits against companies that produced firefighting foam or the PFAS it contained. The payment will help cover the costs of filtering PFAS from systems.

Some of the settlement money will help additional water systems test for contamination from PFAS, said Scott Summy, one of the lead attorneys for those suing 3M and other manufacturers. They have until June 2026 to apply for compensation if contamination is found.

“That’s great news for American citizens who drink from that water,” Summy said. “It’ll help rid our public drinking water systems of PFAS, and that’s the most important thing about the settlement.”

Also, last June, DuPont de Nemours Inc. and spinoffs Chemours Co. and Corteva Inc. reached a $1.18 billion deal to resolve PFAS complaints by about 300 drinking water providers. Several states, airports, firefighter training facilities and private well owners also have sued.

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