3M to pay $10.3 billion to tidy up PFAS water pollution lawsuits
3M has agreed to pay $10.3 billion to settle claims over PFAS-contaminated water supplies.
3M has been facing thousands of lawsuits filed by states, municipalities and individuals across the US over claims they have contaminated water supplies with PFAS chemicals. 3M has agreed to disperse funds of $10.3 billion over the next 13 years to detect and treat PFAS in water supplies. In December last year, they also committed to stop making PFAS by the end of 2025.
3M’s role in PFAS pollution has also been highlighted in Europe in recent months. Earlier this year, a major mapping project of PFAS pollution across Europe found that out of 17,000 sites where PFAS was detected, the highest levels were in Belgian ground water around a 3M PFAS production site. Residents within 15km of the site were told not to eat eggs or vegetables produced in their own gardens, which highlights the level of health concern resulting from PFAS contamination.
PFAS are a family of over 10,000 chemicals and are used in a variety of industrial applications and everyday products, such as non-stick pans, waterproof and stainproof fabrics, paper and card food packaging, and cosmetics. Some PFAS have been linked to health impacts for both humans and wildlife, including certain cancers and effects on immune and reproductive functioning. They have become known as the ‘forever chemicals’ due to their extreme persistence and inability to break down in the environment.
This extreme persistence suggests that 3M’s PFAS pollution of water systems will be difficult to ‘treat’, even with the funds provided by the settlement.
Several US states have legal restrictions on certain PFAS in drinking water, however, there are currently no country-wide restrictions and protective measures rely on advisory guidelines for only two of these chemicals. In March 2023, the US announced a proposed legal limit on the amounts of six specific PFAS compounds permitted in drinking water. While this is significant progress, all PFAS share their extremely persistent properties and are therefore a concern.
Dr Julie Schneider, Chemicals Campaigner at CHEM Trust said “A maximum threshold for the sum of all quantifiable PFAS should also be set. There aren’t just six PFAS, hundreds of PFAS have been detected in water samples.”
Current PFAS pollution will impact generations to come and continuing PFAS production will only exacerbate the problem. This is why we cannot rely on companies to make voluntary commitments to remove PFAS from their products, and instead need immediate and robust legislation to enforce action and better protect nature and people from harmful chemicals.
Research continues to reinforce what CHEM Trust has been highlighting for years – that the current level of PFAS pollution is uncontrollable, unsustainable, and unacceptable. CHEM Trust and other NGOs across the UK and the EU are calling for a ban on all PFAS in consumer products by 2025.