3M Will Pay Up to $12.5B to Settle Lawsuits Over Water Contamination
3M’s headquarters in Maplewood

3M Will Pay Up to $12.5B to Settle Lawsuits Over Water Contamination

Resolving the 'forever chemicals' suits will allow public water suppliers to upgrade treatment systems.

3M on Thursday unveiled an agreement that requires the manufacturer to pay as much as $12.5 billion to local governments for introducing “forever chemicals” into their water supplies.

Instead of going to trial before a federal judge in South Carolina, the Maplewood-based corporation reached a settlement that is now subject to approval by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel.

The effects of PFAS chemicals, which have been used in firefighting foam and many other products, are at the crux of the legal disputes. PFAS is the acronym for per- or poly-fluoroalkyl substances that are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” because they don’t break down in the environment.

Under the agreement, public water systems—often operated by cities—will get payments from 3M to deal with the harm caused by PFAS in their water systems.

In an 863-page filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, 3M spelled out the details of the settlement. If the court approves the settlement between 3M and the plaintiffs, the filing said it would “resolve a portion of 3M’s PFAS-related multidistrict litigation that involves public water systems’ drinking water claims in the United States.”

The filing said that 3M would be obligated to provide “funding for treatment technologies to public water systems that have tested positive for PFAS, funding for future testing, and funding for systems that test positive in the future.”

Mike Roman, 3M’s chairman and CEO, characterized the settlement as “an important step forward for 3M.” In a press statement, Roman emphasized 3M’s “investments in state-of-the-art water filtration technology in our chemical manufacturing operations, and our announcement that we will exit all PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025.”

Under the agreement, 3M will pay $10.5 billion to $12.5 billion to resolve the claims released by the settlement. Payments will be made annually from 2024 through 2036.

“This agreement is not an admission of liability,” 3M said in its press statement. “If the agreement is not approved by the court or certain agreed terms are not fulfilled, 3M is prepared to continue to defend itself in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate.”

Under settlement terms, 3M agreed to “contribute up to a present value of $10.3 billion” to resolve the claims, according to the press statement. Consequently, 3M said that it “expects to record a pre-tax charge of approximately $10.3 billion in the second quarter of 2023 and to reflect it as an adjustment in arriving at results, adjusted for special items.”

In 2010, Minnesota’s attorney general sued 3M over allegations that its PFAS chemicals had damaged drinking water and natural resources in the Twin Cities area.

In early 2018, the state settled its lawsuit against 3M for $850 million. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are co-trustees of the 3M funds. The money is being spent on drinking water and natural resources projects in the East Metro area.

The MPCA and DNR made a biannual report to the Minnesota Legislature in February 2023 about how the 3M settlement funds are being used.