By Kelly House Bridge Michigan
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- Chemical giant 3M has reached a proposed $10.3 billion nationwide settlement over PFAS claims
- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says that doesn’t resolve the state’s lawsuit against the company
- Michigan water suppliers may be eligible for a cut of the settlement
Michigan communities with PFAS in their water supply could be eligible for payments from chemical manufacturer 3M, after the company reached a $10.3 billion settlement to address federal lawsuits from hundreds of water supplies across the country.
But Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the proposed deal, announced late Thursday, does not affect her outstanding PFAS-related lawsuits against 3M and a host of other companies.
In a Friday statement, Nessel said the state’s claims are “separate and distinct” from the proposed settlement with local water suppliers.
“I will pursue litigation or settlement for the state independently and on my own timeframe,” she said.
In a statement, Minneapolis-based 3M indicated the settlement is meant to resolve hundreds of legal claims and provide money for water suppliers not involved in the litigation, including those that may detect PFAS in the future.
Several Michigan water systems have been forced to respond to PFAS in recent years. Among them are Parchment in Kalamazoo County, where contamination discovered in 2018 forced the city to switch its drinking water supply, and Ann Arbor, which spent $1.5 million equipping its water system to strip away PFAS after discovering contamination in the Huron River.
Under terms that still need a judge’s approval, 3M has agreed to dedicate $10.3 billion, payable over the next 13 years, for communities to find and clean PFAS “forever chemicals” in their water supplies.
Still to be determined is how much will first go to lawyers who worked on the case.
The settlement arose as part of a massive “multi-district litigation” that has consolidated thousands of PFAS claims from across the country in the United States District Court of South Carolina.
The deal comes six months after 3M announced it would stop manufacturing PFAS chemicals, a class of thousands of compounds used to make countless products water or stain resistant, everything from nonstick pans and mascara to boots and tablecloths.
Company documents unearthed in court revealed 3M has known for decades that PFAS are toxic. Exposure has been linked to thyroid problems, developmental issues, hormone and immunity challenges, fertility issues and cancer.
In a statement, 3M CEO Mike Roman called the settlement “an important step forward.”
The company does not admit any liabilities.
In Michigan, 3M is among 17 companies Nessel targeted in 2020 lawsuit, alleging chemical companies knew their products were unsafe, but “intentionally hid” that information from the public.
“I welcome the news that 3M is beginning to take responsibility for the harm PFAS has caused to drinking water supplies across the country,” Nessel said Friday.
But she said that doesn’t address Michigan’s costs to respond to PFAS contamination, nor damages inflicted to the state’s natural resources.
Activists and lawyers involved in PFAS cleanups across Michigan say the settlement won’t be enough to make America’s PFAS-polluted communities whole.
In northern Kent County alone, even after a $69.5 million settlement with shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide to extend drinking water lines in two PFAS-contaminated townships, communities may face tens of millions in future costs from contaminated sewer systems and wellheads, said Doug Van Essen, an attorney representing local governments.
“The cost of PFAS to the United States is much greater than $10 billion,” Van Essen said. “But how much can one company afford to carry in that cost?”
Researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine found that treating U.S. disease cases linked to PFAS exposure could cost $62.6 billion.
Beyond that, PFAS costs are borne by hunters and anglers whose sports are now off-limits because of tainted fish, regulators who have spent time and money investigating PFAS pollution, and companies now liable for cleanup costs because they used PFAS without knowing the chemicals were toxic.
The chemicals don’t break down readily in the environment, and are now in the bloodstream of virtually everyone on earth.
Michigan was an early leader in identifying the scope of its PFAS contamination problem, after a series of hotspots emerged in places like Oscoda and northern Kent County.
There are now 280 PFAS sites in Michigan, from former chrome-plating facilities to landfills and military sites.
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Featured image: Chemical and manufacturing giant 3M has agreed to pay $10.3 billion to local water suppliers nationwide affected by PFAS. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says the company still owes Michigan for polluting its natural resources. (Bridge photo by Paula Gardner)