3M may be nearing deal to settle lawsuits over 'forever chemicals'

3M headquarters in Maplewood, pictured on May 2.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

A federal judge on Monday granted a motion to delay the start of a civil trial in which a Florida city is seeking damages from Maplewood-based 3M over the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS — so-called “forever chemicals.”

The move comes as the two sides reportedly are close to reaching a settlement agreement. The case — in which the city of Stuart, Fla., is suing 3M — is considered to be a bellwether case for thousands of similar lawsuits filed across the country.

Those lawsuits stem from environmental and health concerns about PFAS, which don’t break down in the environment. The chemicals have been linked to serious health issues, including cancer.

Judge Richard Gergel’s order granting the continuance on Monday noted that attorneys for the two sides “have been in serious settlement discussions to reach a global resolution of the claims of the water district plaintiffs pending against 3M.”

Gergel wrote that both sides requested the continuance.

“The parties informed the court (Sunday) evening that they have reached a stage in those discussions where they believe a final binding agreement is achievable in the near future and that they believe their time could be more effectively spent finalizing the agreement and obtaining the necessary approvals rather than commencing the trial of this case,” the judge wrote.

The attorneys were ordered to give the court weekly updates for the next three weeks — after which, if there’s no deal reached, the trial would resume.

3M stopped making firefighting foam years ago — and announced last December it would stop making all PFAS, which have been used in other applications. But experts have said the company could still face significant financial liabilities. Three other companies announced Friday they had reached a more than $1 billion deal to resolve complaints about polluting drinking water systems with PFAS.