Three makers of Chemicals Forever are settling public water issues

Three major chemical companies said Friday they will pay more than $1 billion to settle the first wave of allegations that they and other companies have contaminated drinking water across the country with so-called eternal chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other diseases.

The companies — Chemours, DuPont and Corteva — said they have reached an agreement in principle to create a $1.19 billion fund to help remove toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from public drinking water systems. PFAS has been linked to liver damage, a weakened immune system, and several forms of cancer, among other harms, and are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they linger in the human body and the environment.

Bloomberg News reported Friday that 3M has reached a preliminary deal worth “at least $10 billion” with US cities and towns to settle related PFAS claims. A 3M spokesman, Sean Lynch, declined to comment for the report, which cited unnamed people familiar with the deal.

Hundreds of communities across the country have sued Chemours, 3M and other companies, alleging that their products — used in firefighting, nonstick coatings and a wide range of other products — contaminate soil and water. They have sought billions of dollars in damages to deal with the health effects and cost of cleaning up and monitoring contaminated sites.

The trial, which was set to begin next week in federal court in South Carolina, is seen as a test case for those lawsuits. In this case, the city of Stewart, Florida, sued 3M and several other companies, claiming that PFAS-containing firefighting foam—used for decades in drills by the city’s fire department—contaminated the local water supply.

The announced settlement is “an incredibly important next step in what has been decades of work to try to ensure that the costs of this massive contamination of the ‘forever chemical’ PFAS are not borne by the victims but by the companies that caused the problem,” said Rob Bilott, an environmental lawyer who advises. to plaintiffs in cases.

Environmental groups have been wary, however. Eric D. said: But, he added, “it will not completely solve the problem.”

The initial settlement with Chemours, DuPont and Corteva, all of which declined to comment after the announcement, may not be the end of costs for those companies either. The deal, which requires a judge’s approval, would settle lawsuits involving water systems that already have detectable levels of PFAS contamination, in addition to those required for pollution monitoring by the EPA.

But it does exclude some other water regulations, and it won’t resolve lawsuits resulting from environmental damage or personal injury claims from individuals who have already been injured by the chemicals. State attorneys general have filed new lawsuits, some as recently as this week, over the matter.

3M’s liability could be greater. In an online presentation in March, CreditSights, a financial research firm, estimated that the PFAS lawsuit could ultimately cost the three million more than $140 billion, though it said a lower figure was likely. The company said that by the end of 2025 it plans to exit all PFAS manufacturing and will work to end the use of PFAS in its products.

3M shares rose sharply on Friday after the Bloomberg report, as did Chemours, DuPont and Corteva.

Synthetic chemicals are so ubiquitous that nearly all Americans, including newborns, carry PFAS in their bloodstream. As many as 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS in their tap water, according to a 2020 study.

PFAS clean-up efforts took added urgency last year when the Environmental Protection Agency determined that levels of chemicals “far lower than previously understood” could cause harm and that virtually no level of exposure is safe. It advised that drinking water contain no more than 0.004 ppm PFOA and 0.02 ppm PFOA.

Previously, the agency had advised that drinking water contain no more than 70 parts per trillion of chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency said the government would, for the first time, require near-zero levels of the substances.

Some industry groups have criticized the proposed regulation and said the Biden administration has created an impossible standard that will cost manufacturers and municipal water agencies billions of dollars. Industries will have to stop dumping chemicals into waterways, and water utilities will have to test and remove PFAS chemicals. They warned that communities with limited resources would be hardest hit by the new rule.

The EPA has estimated that compliance would cost water utilities $772 million annually. But many utilities say they expect costs to be much higher.

PFAS-related litigation includes more than 4,000 cases, filed in federal courts across the country but largely consolidated before a federal judge in Charleston, South Carolina. It is also called multi-district litigation because the lawsuits involve a common set of facts and allegations. It is not uncommon for so-called collective tort cases to be grouped together in this way in federal court, making it easier to conduct discovery and take affidavits when multiple plaintiffs and defendants are involved.

“Without making the settlement documents public, it is difficult to say with certainty what claims the alleged agreement covers,” said Elizabeth Burch, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies group tort claims.

The list of cases against companies is growing. Maryland filed two lawsuits this week against 3M, DuPont, and others. Days earlier, the Rhode Island Attorney General filed a similar report accusing the companies of violating “state environmental and consumer protection laws.”

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Winona Hooter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit organization in Washington that works on issues related to clean water, food and climate. “This problem affects people across the country in many communities.”

Ms. Hutter said she wants to see stricter regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency

“We need strong and enforceable actual regulations on the entire class of PFAS chemicals,” she said. I’m not sure this compromise is as much of a deterrent as necessary. A lot of damage has been done in Northern Michigan. People’s lives have been severely affected. Creating a fund is a modest step.”

Lisa Friedman Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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