Drop in the ocean

3M's $10.3 billion "forever chemicals" settlement is also an armor against future lawsuits

It would take an estimated $400 billion to remove PFAS from drinking water nationwide

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Bending to environmental standards.
Bending to environmental standards.
Photo: Pascal Rossignol (Reuters)

3M will pay at least $10.3 billion to settle claims over the dumping of so-called forever chemicals in drinking water supplies across the US. The legal bill slapped on the company, infamous for creating the chemical C8 for Scotchgard, will cover not just existing claims but also future ones by municipal water authorities over per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

The money from the deal, subject to court approval, would provide “funding for treatment technologies to PWS [public water systems] that have tested positive for PFAS, funding for future testing, and funding for systems that test positive in the future,” according to a regulatory filing.


The settlement agreement, which 3M says “is not an admission of liability,” calls for annual payments over the next 13 years, from 2024 through 2036.

The problem with PFAS

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that can be found in several everyday items like household cleaners, packaging like sandwich wrappers, paints and waxes, fire-fighting foams, and wire insulation. Because their molecules have strong carbon-fluoride bonds, they do not degrade easily. They were largely produced between the 1940s to early 2000s, with a slowdown in recent years, but their effects will last for more than a thousand years.


The chemicals, which most Americans have been exposed to, have been found to affect reproductive and thyroid levels. They’ve also been linked to cancer, developmental defects, and other health problems.

“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. The result is that millions of Americans will have healthier lives without PFAS in their drinking water,said Scott Summy, an attorney for the plaintiffs with environmental litigation firm Baron & Budd.

Quotable: 3M is exiting the PFAS business

“While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to make the greatest impact for those we serve.” 3M chairman and chief executive officer Mike Roman last December, when the company vowed to put an end to PFAS production and distribution by the end of 2025.


PFAS lawsuits and penalties, by the digits

$12.5 billion: How high 3M’s payment as part of the class action resolution could reach, depending on how many public water systems detect PFAS during testing that Environmental Protection Agency has mandated in the next three years


5,000+: Water systems that have already detected PFAS that will be paid in the first phase

5%: How much 3M’s stock rose on news of the proposed settlement in after-hours trading


$850 million: The settlement 3M reached with the state of Minnesota after its attorney general sued the company for allegedly discharging PFAS and contaminating the state’s natural resources in the Twin Cities area in 2018

$30 billion: The total “litigation overhang” on the 3M stock, according to RBC analyst Deane Dray. Around $10 billion of this is not to do with PFAS but with the largest-ever multidistrict litigation case in the US against 3M’s Combat Arms military earplug cases, which allegedly cause hearing damage


$1.3 billion: The current annual net sales from PFAS manufacturing for 3M

4,000: Lawsuits targeting 3M and other companies over PFAS environmental harms that have been consolidated before a federal judge in Charleston, South Carolina


$1.18 billion: The size of the deal three other companies — DuPont and its spinoffs Chemours, and Corteva—reached earlier in June to resolve PFAS lawsuits

200 million: Americans drinking water laced with PFAS

106: Bills that have passed in at least 24 states, banning forever chemicals

$400 billion: Estimated cost of removing PFAS from drinking water nationwide

One more thing: 3M’s PFAS legal woes aren’t over

The settlement solves a number of cases, including a trial that was delayed at the last moment as settlement talks neared their conclusion. But 3M still faces various PFAS-related lawsuits, including ones filed by individuals with personal injury and property damage claims, and others by US states over damages to natural resources such as rivers and lakes that were not part of the settlement.


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