Wire and staff reports
3M Co. has agreed to pay the state of Minnesota $850 million to settle a case that was centered on the same class of chemicals involved in several Decatur-area lawsuits against the company, according to The Associated Press.
“There are many similarities between the issues in the Minnesota case and ours,” said Decatur lawyer Carl Cole, who represents plaintiffs who have pending lawsuits against 3M over the chemicals. “3M should do the right thing here in Alabama as well. … Delaying treatment and remediation risks the health of those exposed. Alabama citizens’ lives are just as important as the lives of Minnesotans.”
The Minnesota settlement was announced Tuesday by that state’s attorney general after jury selection was halted as the trial was set to begin.
The state was seeking $5 billion from Maplewood, Minnesota-based 3M in a case that focused on the company’s disposal of chemicals once used to make Scotchgard fabric protector and other products. The lawsuit, filed in 2010, alleged 3M damaged Minnesota’s natural resources, including more than 100 miles of the Mississippi River, and contaminated drinking water, harmed wildlife and posed a threat to human health.
The company denies it did anything wrong, insisting it was acting legally at the time. The settlement did not require an admission of liability, Attorney General Lori Swanson said.
“We think the settlement will help solve a problem in Minnesota,” Swanson said. “… These chemicals, as I mentioned, were put into the ground. And we are very hopeful the settlement can help fix that.”
Swanson said 3M will pay the state in one lump sum within the next 15 days. It will go into a fund dedicated to projects that will clean up and safeguard drinking water in the eastern suburbs of St. Paul. Details on how the money will be allocated are still being worked out, but it could go to help homeowners with contaminated wells, or help municipalities with sustainable drinking water and treatment plans.
Funding would also go toward habitat restoration and recreation such as fishing piers, trails or wetlands.
The lawsuit was centered on 3M’s disposal of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, and their compounds. The company began producing PFCs in the 1950s and legally disposed of them in landfills for decades. Along with Scotchgard, the chemicals were used in fire retardants, paints, nonstick cookware and other products.
The company stopped making PFCs in 2002 after negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the chemicals could pose long-term risks to human health and the environment. Minnesota sued in 2010, alleging 3M researched PFCs and knew the chemicals were getting into the environment and posing a threat to human health.
In a statement Tuesday, 3M senior vice president of research and development John Banovetz said the company is proud of its record of environmental stewardship and does not believe there is a PFC-related health issue.
Since the Minnesota lawsuit was filed in 2010, concerns over PFCs have grown. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis and St. Paul reported that in 2016, the EPA drastically reduced the recommended maximum levels of PFC concentrations for drinking water. As a result, about 15 million people learned their drinking water wasn’t considered safe for long-term consumption.
The Star Tribune reported that the EPA’s advisory sent communities nationwide scrambling to install technology to treat water. At least two dozen lawsuits related to PFCs have been filed against 3M around the country, including one filed last week in Massachusetts over water contamination blamed on firefighting foam.
Several lawsuits involving 3M and PFCs are underway in the Decatur area.
Alleging exposure to toxic chemicals in their drinking water caused cancer and other health problems, 24 area residents filed a federal lawsuit late last year against 3M Co., its subsidiary Dyneon LLC, and Daikin America Inc., all of which have used the now-discontinued chemicals at their plants in Decatur, and West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority.
In another lawsuit, the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, on behalf of its customers, is suing 3M, Dyneon, and Daikin America, alleging their actions caused the contamination of the system’s water. That case is set for trial in October 2018. Daikin has entered a preliminary settlement of the water authority lawsuit.
Tennessee Riverkeeper is suing 3M, Daikin, Dyneon, Toray Fluorofibers America Inc., BFI Waste Systems of Alabama, and various local government entities seeking a court order that the defendants clean up PFOA and PFOS contamination of the Tennessee River.
A Tennessee Riverkeeper official said last year that case is slated for trial sometime in 2019.
Last month, landowners in Trinity sued 3M and alleged the company allowed an illegal dump to be placed on their property that contained high PFC levels.