Top US chemical firms offer $1.2bln for water contamination lawsuits
DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva agree on a settlement, and 3M is reportedly considering a $10 billion settlement to avoid trial due to start on Monday.
Just days before the commencement of a pivotal PFAS contamination trial in South Carolina, DuPont and two associated firms said on Friday they would settle liability claims brought by public water systems serving the vast majority of the US population for close to $1.2 billion.
According to reports, 3M, the producer of PFAS, was also thinking about a deal that would shield the business from accusations that it willfully contaminated drinking water sources across the United States.
The trial that will begin on Monday is anticipated to shed light on long-hidden, top-secret documents detailing the chemical giant 3M's awareness of the risks associated with its per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Prior to now, 3M declared that it would stop producing PFAS by 2025.
A settlement was recently reached between the parties, in which DuPont will pay about $400 million, Chemours, a DuPont offshoot, will pay $592 million, and Corteva, another DuPont-affiliated firm, will pay around $193 million.
According to the companies, the settlement does not include personal injury lawsuits from state attorneys general alleging PFAS contamination of natural resources.
Bloomberg stated on Friday that 3M was discussing a $10 billion compensation to settle claims and postpone the trial on Monday.
In response to a question regarding a potential settlement, 3M issued a statement that read, "We don't comment on rumors and speculation."
Earlier, in a court filing, 3M said it was not liable and that it "never owned, operated, or otherwise controlled the facilities, disposal sites, and other purported sources of PFAS or related compounds."
The company did not have all the "necessary controls over its products after the point of sal," it added in the filing.
In a statement, the company also said it was working to stop using PFAS across its product portfolio before 2025 ends, even though "PFAS are safely made and used in many modern products."
4,000 additional plaintiffs
The small city of Stuart, Florida, which is suing over the pollution of its drinking water with two forms of PFAS, named PFOS and PFOA, that were used in firefighting foam by neighborhood firefighters, is the plaintiff in the trial that is set to begin on Monday.
A total of over 4,000 other plaintiffs are also a part of the larger case being managed by the US district court in Charleston, South Carolina. The goal of the multi-district litigation (MDL) is to recoup the costs that both public and private water utilities are paying to test, monitor, and replace water sources, as well as to build technology to try to remove chemicals from contaminated systems.
When state regulators informed city officials that some of Stuart's well water contained levels of PFOA and PFOS higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe, the city of Stuart, which has about 17,000 residents, learned in 2016 that its drinking water wells had been contaminated. Finally, it was discovered that almost all of the city's wells contained some amount of PFOA or PFOS.
The local fire department had been using "aqueous film-forming foams" (AFFF) in training drills for decades when the contamination was discovered by the city, which had no idea that its efforts to ensure public safety were really endangering it because of the hazardous chemicals in the foam.
According to Michael Mortell, Stuart's city attorney and interim city manager, the city has subsequently built an ion exchange filtering system that is intended to lower the levels of PFOS and PFOA to undetectable levels. This should be covered by 3M, not the taxpayer, according to the city. In addition to compensatory damages, the city is suing 3M for claimed "wrongful conduct".
Similar to the thousands of other cases still pending, the Stuart case asserts that 3M knew by the 1970s that PFOA and PFOS could be harmful to human health and the environment but chose to keep this information secret from the general public and government regulators while continuing to produce the chemicals, including for use in firefighting foam.
Stuart's lawyers intend to base their argument in part on 3M internal documents, many of which became available after Minnesota officials and 3M reached an $850 million settlement in 2018 regarding PFAS water contamination that the state said caused cancers and other health issues in citizens.
McWilliams, one of Stuart city’s lawyers, said, "They knew that their chemical … was in the blood of the general population: every man, woman and child," summarizing a position the city plans to make in court.
"They deliberated whether or not to tell the EPA. They ultimately decided not to. And then they sat on it for 22 years," he added.
Even after the EPA forced 3M to stop producing PFAS chemicals used in firefighting foam in 2002, the business is accused of failing to alert consumers about dangerous foam that remained on the market or to recall the dangerous goods.
Due to their resilience to water, oil, and heat, PFAS, frequently referred to as "forever chemicals" since they do not naturally decompose, have been employed in a wide range of consumer and commercial applications. They may be found in anything from pesticides and pizza boxes to plastics and paints.
According to the EPA, PFAS residues are still present in food, water, soil, the air, and common materials used in homes and workplaces. Additionally, scientists have found that the poisons are now frequently detected in the bodies of people and animals all around the world. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood.
Ned McWilliams, one of the lawyers representing the Florida town in the upcoming trial, said that besides global warming, this is the "biggest environmental catastrophe to ever happen."
Plaintiffs' lawyers anticipate introducing as evidence a selection of internal documents from 3M and DuPont that date back to the 1960s.
John Butenhoff, a retired 3M toxicologist, is also anticipated to testify during the trial. Butenhoff agreed that 3M is most likely the source of PFOS contamination worldwide, including in air, seas, soil, people, fish, polar bears, and "other Arctic mammals" in a video deposition conducted prior to the trial.