Attorney General Henry Joins Bipartisan Coalition in Opposing 3M’s Proposed Settlement over Cleanup, Treatment Efforts of ‘Forever Chemicals’

July 27, 2023 | Topic: Rights

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Michelle Henry, joining a coalition of 21 other state Attorneys General, announced her opposition to a proposed class action settlement that could shift the responsibility for the 3M Company’s contamination of Americans’ drinking water supply back onto local water systems and taxpayers.

Under the proposed settlement, water providers would withdraw hundreds of lawsuits filed against 3M over its use of polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly referred to as “PFAS,” a class of “forever chemicals” — found in a wide range of consumer products and firefighting foams. PFAS do not break down over time, pollute groundwater and are harmful to human health.

The proposed settlement, which is subject to federal court approval, offers a payout of at least $10.5 billion to public water systems. The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General joined objections to the settlement, under the lead of California.

“Pennsylvanians have a right to clean water, and companies that continue to produce and distribute products containing dangerous forever chemicals that then contaminate our water deny us that basic right,” Attorney General Henry said. “3M’s proposal not only falls far short of meeting the financial burden inflicted on communities left to clean up the PFAS, it also conveniently skirts responsibility in the future, when the full scope of these chemicals’ harm will be realized.”

The Pennsylvania OAG filings state, in part, that the proposed settlement fails to fill the gap “between monies awarded to the (water systems) and the actual cost to design, build, operate, and maintain PFAS treatment systems…”

The proposed settlement would apply to nearly every public water provider in the United States, even those that have not sued and even those that have yet to test for the presence of PFAS in their water. In return for waiving their claims, 3M would allegedly pay out $10.5 to $12.5 billion to water providers, an amount that is worth far less because of certain provisions that could ultimately force water providers to reimburse 3M for many of its costs.

In the brief filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the coalition warns that:

  • Individual water providers would be bound by the proposed settlement unless they proactively opt out, whether or not they have sued 3M or already tested for PFAS. Troublingly, they would have to make their opt-out decisions without knowing how much they would actually receive and, in many cases, before knowing the extent of contamination in their water supplies and the cost of remediating it.
  • The proposed settlement contains an indemnification clause, which shifts liability from 3M to water suppliers bound by settlement because they decided not to proactively opt-out. For example, if a cancer cluster develops in a PFAS-impacted community and the victims sue 3M, 3M would likely be able to seek compensation from the community’s public water supplier for any amount it owed to the victims, even an amount greater than the supplier received. As such, the proposed settlement is worth far less than the advertised $10.5 billion to $12.5 billion.

Joining in the opposition, along with Attorney General Henry, are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, as well as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

A copy of the opposition motion is HERE.

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