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Three ‘Forever Chemicals’ Makers Settle Public Water Lawsuits

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Three major chemical companies on Friday pledged more than $1 billion to settle the first of a series of lawsuits alleging they and others polluted drinking water nationwide with so-called permanent chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases. announced to pay.

The companies Chemours, DuPont and Corteva have announced they have reached an agreement in principle to create a $1.19 billion fund to help eliminate toxic perfluoroalkyls and their removal. Polyfluoroalkyl substance, or PFAS, from public drinking water systems. PFAS have been associated with harm such as liver damage, a weakened immune system, and some forms of cancer, and are called the eternal chemicals because they persist in the human body and environment.

Bloomberg News also reported Friday that 3M has reached tentative agreements worth “at least $10 billion” with U.S. cities and towns to settle related PFAS claims. 3M spokesman Sean Lynch declined to comment for the report, which quoted the name of a person familiar with the deal who asked not to be named.

Hundreds of communities across the country are suing companies such as Chemours and 3M for contaminating soil and water with the company’s products, which are used in firefighting foam, nonstick paint and a variety of other products. They are seeking billions of dollars in damages to address the health effects and costs of cleanup and monitoring of contaminated sites.

A trial, scheduled to begin next week in federal court in South Carolina, is seen as the touchstone for these lawsuits. In that case, the city of Stewart, Fla., sued 3M and several other companies, alleging that a firefighting foam containing PFASs used for decades in training by the city’s fire department contaminated local water supplies.

The announced settlement “is a huge step forward in decades of efforts to ensure that the costs of this massive PFAS ‘permanent chemical’ contamination are borne by the companies that caused the problem, rather than by the victims.” “It’s an important next step for us,” said Rob Bilot, an environmental attorney advising the plaintiffs in the case.

But environmental groups were cautious. Eric D. Olson, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the proposed settlement, combined with funding recently allocated by Congress to combat pollution, “does a little bit of the problem.” But he added, “It’s not a complete solution.”

Interim settlements with Chemours, DuPont and Corteva all declined to comment beyond the announcement, but the costs to these companies may not end there. The agreement, which requires judge approval, will settle lawsuits involving water systems that already had detectable levels of PFAS contamination or that are required to be monitored for contamination by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, the bill excludes some other water systems and does not resolve lawsuits resulting from claims of environmental damage or personal injury from individuals already sickened by chemicals.and state attorney general Several lawsuits have been filed recently over this issue.

3M’s liability could be even greater. Financial research firm CreditSights said in an online presentation in March that it estimated that the PFAS lawsuit could ultimately cost 3M more than $140 billion, but it was likely lower. rice field. The company said it plans to exit all PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025 and will work to phase out the use of PFAS in its products.

Shares of 3M surged on Friday after the Bloomberg report, while shares of Chemours, DuPont and Corteva also rose.

Synthetic chemicals are so ubiquitous that almost every American, including newborns, carry PFAS into the bloodstream. As many as 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS in tap water, according to a peer-reviewed report. 2020 study.

Efforts to clean up PFAS were spurred last year after the EPA determined that levels of chemicals “much lower than previously understood” could be harmful, and that few levels are safe to be exposed to. It made it even more urgent. The report recommended that drinking water contain 0.004 parts per trillion of perfluorooctanoic acid and 0.02 parts per trillion of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid in drinking water.

The agency had previously recommended no more than 70 ppt of chemicals in drinking water. The EPA said the government would require near-zero levels of substances for the first time.

Some industry groups have criticized the proposed regulation, arguing that the Biden administration set an impossible standard that would cost manufacturers and municipal water agencies billions of dollars. Industry needs to stop releasing chemicals into waterways, and water utilities need to test and remove PFAS chemicals. They warned that communities with limited resources would be hit hardest by the new rules.

The EPA estimates that compliance will cost water utilities $772 million annually. But many utilities say they expect costs to be even higher.

Although PFAS-related lawsuits include more than 4,000 lawsuits and have been filed in federal courts across the country, most of them are so-called multidistrict lawsuits because the lawsuits contain common facts and allegations. The lawsuit has been consolidated before a federal judge in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s not uncommon for so-called large tort cases to be organized like this in federal court, facilitating discovery and depositions when so many plaintiffs and defendants are involved.

“Unless settlement documents are made public, it’s hard to say with certainty which claims fall under the purported agreement,” said Elizabeth Birch, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies large tort lawsuits.

The list of lawsuits against companies continues to grow.Maryland filed two lawsuits This week we will be playing against 3M, DuPont and others. Days earlier, the Rhode Island Attorney General had filed a similar lawsuit, accusing the companies of violating “state environmental and consumer protection laws.”

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” says Wenona Houter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, a Washington nonprofit that works on issues related to clean water, food and the climate. “This issue is affecting people in so many communities across the country.”

Houter said he wants stricter regulation by the EPA

“We need really strong regulations that are enforceable for all classes of PFAS chemicals,” she said. “I don’t know if this settlement will be as great a deterrent as it needs to be. There is so much damage done in northern Michigan. People’s livelihoods are severely affected. It’s a small step.”

Lisa Freedman contributed to the report.

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