By Clark Mindock
(Reuters) -3M on Tuesday secured preliminary approval for a $10.3 billion deal resolving claims by U.S. public water providers that the company polluted drinking water with toxic chemicals, less than a day after a group of 22 U.S. states and territories dropped their objections to the deal.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston, South Carolina, said in a court filing that the settlement of hundreds of lawsuits against the Minnesota-based company over pollution by perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, is “sufficiently fair, reasonable and adequate” to justify moving forward.
Paul Napoli, an attorney for the water providers, called the preliminary approval a “pivotal moment in our ongoing efforts to ensure safe and clean drinking water.”
A 3M spokesperson said the agreement will benefit U.S. public water systems that provide water to “a vast majority of Americans” without further litigation.
The settlement will be considered during a final “fairness hearing” in February, when the judge will consider any outstanding objections or concerns before deciding whether to give final approval.
Dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down, PFAS are used in a range of products from firefighting foam to non-stick cookware and have been linked to cancer and hormonal dysfunction.
The settlement announced in June would provide funds to cities, towns and other public water providers over a 13-year period to test for and treat PFAS contamination.
It stems from litigation over firefighting foams containing PFAS that were sprayed in fields or airports and left to seep into groundwater and other waterways.
3M, which has said the settlement would help support remediation “at any level,” has not admitted wrongdoing.
The states had objected in July, saying the deal did not adequately account for the damage caused by PFAS and did not give water providers enough information to understand whether the settlement was suitable or not.
The preliminary approval came hours after the states withdrew those objections on Monday night, citing changes to the deal following weeks of negotiations.
3M, the water providers and the states said in a joint court filing that the changes allow individual water providers to obtain estimates on their expected payout before agreeing to the deal, give providers more time to decide whether to opt out of the deal, and clarify that states can still pursue separate lawsuits over PFAS contamination.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office originally objected to the deal, said in a statement on Tuesday that the “new agreement will ensure 3M is held accountable.”
California and several other states and U.S. territories that had objected to the deal said in a separate filing on Monday that they still thought 3M should be paying more to settle the cases, even though they no longer formally object.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has called PFAS an “urgent public health and environmental issue.”
3M in December set a 2025 deadline to stop producing PFAS.
(Reporting by Clark Mindock in New YorkEditing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Matthew Lewis and Bill Berkrot)