Multinational chemical company 3M has reached a $10.3 billion settlement with multiple public water systems in the U.S. over water pollution claims tied to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) “forever chemicals.”
According to the company, settlement funds will be distributed to affected cities and towns to test for contamination from PFAS and to treat their water systems over a period of 13 years, reported The Guardian.
“We have reached the largest drinking water settlement in American history, which will be used to help filter PFAS from drinking water that is served to the public,” said Scott Summy, a lead attorney for the water systems suing 3M, as The Guardian reported.
The company did not admit liability in the case, saying the funds would help to remedy the presence of PFAS “at any level or may do so in the future,” reported The New York Times.
About 4,000 lawsuits have been brought against 3M for PFAS contamination by municipalities and states.
Three other chemical companies — DuPont, Chemours and Corteva — reached a similar settlement on June 2, agreeing to pay $1.19 billion to be used to remove the harmful chemicals from U.S. public drinking water systems.
PFAS have been termed “forever chemicals” because they are not easily broken down in the environment. The toxic chemicals are used in a wide variety of products, from rain gear and non-stick cookware to personal care products such as shampoo, cosmetics and sunscreen. They have been linked to cancer, liver damage, increased risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and decreased vaccine response in children.
In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been strengthening regulations for PFAS and imposed the first national drinking water standards on six of the prevalent chemicals in March, The Guardian reported.
In December of last year, 3M set a deadline of 2025 to stop its production of PFAS.
Summy said the 13-year settlement could end up being as much as $12.5 billion, reported The Associated Press. The final number will depend on the number of public water systems that find PFAS during the EPA-required testing over the next three years.
“I’m not sure anyone knows what that ultimate number will be,” said Summy, as The Associated Press reported. “But I do think this is going to make a huge dent in that cost… and you don’t have to litigate for the next decade or longer.”
“The result is that millions of Americans will have healthier lives without PFAS in their drinking water,” Summy added.
Other lawsuits against 3M related to PFAS are still pending, reported The Guardian. The suits, filed by U.S. states and related to damages to lakes and rivers, as well as individuals claiming property and personal injury damages, were not part of the current settlement.