3M 'forever chemicals' settlement moves forward

3M headquarters, pictured Tuesday, May 2, 2023.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

A proposed $10 billion settlement with 3M over contamination of public water supplies is moving ahead after 22 state attorneys general dropped objections to the deal.

The settlement awaiting court approval stems from lawsuits over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

PFAS chemicals have been widely used in a range of consumer products as well as in firefighting foams and are commonly found in the environment. The chemicals have contaminated water supplies across the country are linked to serious health issues.

The company has addressed concerns raised by attorneys general, said Kevin Rhodes, chief legal affairs officer for Maplewood, Minn.-based 3M. “They have withdrawn their objections. So, we're now in a position the parties believe the settlement is fair for the class members, and the overall agreement is now before the court for preliminary approval.”

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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said there were several concerns about the proposed settlement, including “an indemnity clause that could have placed 3M’s liability for PFAS on public water systems, a lack of disclosure about how much public water systems could receive from the settlement, and not providing enough time for water systems to act.”

Ellison said those concerns were addressed and he now supports the settlement.

In 2018, 3M reached an $850 million settlement with the state of Minnesota in a lawsuit over chemical contamination of water in several eastern Twin Cities suburbs.

In a statement Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James said the settlement was also changed to allow for future claims by states and the federal government.  

“Corporate polluters like 3M should not be able to duck responsibility for contaminating our waters with toxic ‘forever chemicals’ that have caused devastating health problems,” said James, whose office co-led negotiations over the settlement.

water flowing out of a faucet
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a large class of human-made chemicals originally developed in Minnesota by Maplewood-based 3M back in the 1940s. PFAS have been found in water, soil, wildlife and humans around the globe.
Steve Johnson for Pexels

While the objections to key portions of the settlement were addressed, five attorneys general are filing an amicus letter in the case expressing concerns about the amount and timeline of the settlement payment, according to a statement from California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

“3M declined to pay an amount that accurately reflects the extraordinary damage it has caused to public drinking water systems, and it declined to provide water suppliers the money to remediate that damage more quickly,” said Bonta.

3M is expected to pay between $10 and $12 billion under the proposed settlement. The payments will stretch over a decade.

Among other concerns, the letter said that “the revised settlement still includes a very protracted payment schedule that makes water suppliers bear the risk of 3M’s insolvency for over a decade.”