3M Unveils $10.3 Billion PFAS Settlement

3M Unveils $10.3 Billion PFAS Settlement

The 3M Company announced it reached a $10.3 billion settlement to resolve lawsuits concerning PFAS contamination of U.S. public water systems. This deal addresses claims that the company has polluted cities, towns, and other public water systems with hazardous “forever chemicals” found in firefighting foam and other products. The 3M PFAS settlement marks a crucial step in acknowledging and addressing the public health concern surrounding PFAS contamination that has allegedly impacted thousands nationwide.   

“Forever Chemicals”: What You Need to Know About PFAS 

 PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals found in a wide range of consumer products. In addition to nonstick cookware and clothing, PFAS are commonly added to waterproof fabrics, stain-resistant treatments for carpets and upholstery, and food packaging materials. However, one notable area where PFAS have been widely employed is firefighting foam. Since the 1960s, the military, airports, and firefighters have frequently used firefighting foam containing PFAS to extinguish fuel-based fires.   

Manufacturers like 3M have incorporated PFAS into firefighting foam because these chemicals allow the foam to create a protective barrier that prevents the spread of fires. But firefighting foam laced with PFAS has led to unintended consequences, particularly regarding water contamination and subsequent health risks. 

PFAS can seep into the surrounding soil and water sources, affecting the quality of drinking water sources. PFAS do not break down naturally in the environment and can bioaccumulate in fish and wildlife. Therefore, these chemicals have earned the name “forever chemicals.” Consequently, communities that rely on these contaminated water sources may be susceptible to the health risks associated with PFAS exposure. Studies have linked PFAS exposure to cancer, liver damage, and immune system issues.  

About the Monumental 3M PFAS Settlement  

On June 22, 2023, 3M unveiled a $10.3 billion settlement to compensate water providers for the pollution caused by PFAS. This sum is reportedly the largest drinking water settlement in American history. The settlement will be paid out over 13 years and could reach $12.5 billion. The possible increase depends on whether more public water systems detect PFAS during required testing by the EPA over the next three years. 

This 3M PFAS settlement will support clean-up efforts to remove PFAS from water systems and test and treat other potentially impacted water sources. In addition to the financial compensation, 3M committed to phasing out the production of PFAS entirely by the end of 2025. The company has also invested in state-of-the-art water filtration technology for its chemical manufacturing operations.  

Other Settlements and the Future of PFAS Litigation 

Apart from 3M, other companies such as DuPont de Nemours Inc., Chemours Co., and Corteva Inc. reached a $1.18 billion deal to resolve PFAS complaints from about 300 drinking water providers. 

The recent 3M PFAS settlement will resolve the first firefighting foam bellwether trial scheduled: City of Stuart vs. 3M Company. The city in Florida accused 3M, among other manufacturers, of polluting its soil and groundwater through firefighting foam containing PFAS. The trial was supposed to begin earlier this month in South Carolina federal court. Yet the judge delayed the trial to allow for further settlement negotiations. It was one of more than 4,000 lawsuits filed against 3M and other chemical companies. 

This settlement is a significant step towards eliminating PFAS in drinking water. However, it does not spell the end of PFAS litigation against 3M. The company will have to confront additional PFAS-related lawsuits from individuals seeking compensation for personal injuries and property damage. Also, several U.S. states have filed lawsuits against 3M. These state lawsuits seek damages for the harm caused to natural resources like rivers and lakes. These particular lawsuits fall outside the scope of the recent 3M PFAS settlement.   

The settlement, which 3M stressed is not an admission of liability, still requires court approval.