Chemical giants have reached multi-billion dollar settlements in lawsuits related to the presence of persistent toxic chemicals, known as PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances), in everyday products like non-stick frying pans and waterproof clothing.
PFAS are highly durable chemicals that persist in nature for a long time. They have been linked to various health issues, including cancer, infertility, and environmental damage.
In a recent development, industrial conglomerate 3M announced that it will pay up to $12.5 billion over 13 years to settle claims from US public water systems that accused the company of contaminating their supplies with PFAS.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the largest PFAS settlements to date:
Record Water Deal in the US
Under the settlement, 3M will provide financial support ranging from $10.5 to $12.5 billion for testing and treating water for PFAS across the United States. The deal, subject to judicial approval, marks the largest-ever drinking water settlement in the US.
The focus of this agreement is 3M’s use of firefighting foams containing PFAS, which have been accused of polluting groundwater. Additionally, 3M has announced its plan to cease production of PFAS substances by the end of 2025, along with its other products like post-it notes and COVID face masks.
Cases in the Netherlands and Belgium
In July 2022, 3M reached a settlement of 571 million euros ($612 million) with the Belgian region of Flanders over alleged PFAS pollution from its Zwijndrecht plant near Antwerp. A study commissioned by Flemish authorities revealed high levels of PFAS in the blood of individuals residing near the plant.
In May of this year, the Dutch government announced its intention to seek compensation from 3M for pollution caused by the same plant in the Western Scheldt river. Dutch authorities previously warned against consuming fish, shrimp, mussels, and other products from the contaminated river.
In early June, just days prior to 3M’s massive settlement in the US, US chemicals giant DuPont, along with its spinoffs Chemours and Corteva, agreed to pay nearly $1.2 billion to settle claims that they contaminated water sources serving a large majority of the US population with PFAS. The case gained significant attention through the film “Dark Waters,” starring Mark Ruffalo, which shed light on a class-action lawsuit against DuPont over water pollution caused by pollutants in drinking water in West Virginia. This legal battle lasted for 19 years, resulting in a victory against DuPont.
Australian Military Settlement
In May, the Australian government settled a class-action lawsuit filed against it, relating to the military’s use of firefighting foam containing PFAS. Approximately 30,000 claimants asserted that the use of this foam contaminated the land around army bases and reduced property values. The settlement amount of Aus$132.7 million (US$88 million) remains confidential.
© 2023 AFP
The global battle against ‘forever’ chemicals’ (2023, June 23)
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Shambhu Kumar is a science communicator, making complex scientific topics accessible to all. His articles explore breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines, from space exploration to cutting-edge research.