A U.S. federal judge allowed a delay yesterday in the water contamination trial against manufacturing giant 3M, Reuters reported. The trial was brought on by the Florida city of Stuart, which is suing the company for $100 million for water filtration and forever chemical remediation.
However, both parties recently informed the federal court that they felt confident they could reach an agreement soon, The Guardian reported. The judge agreed to the delay and said that he would reschedule if an agreement is not reached within the next 21 days from this Monday. This means 3M would have to successfully settle the lawsuit with Stuart before the end of this month.
The city is seeking this settlement because officials say that 3M’s products have exposed residents to PFAS, which means per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. They’re commonly called ‘forever chemicals’ because they won’t break down in nature over time. They also don’t break down in the human body. It’s also a category of over 12,000 chemicals found in many everyday products. Chemical exposure has been linked to cancer, infertility, birth defects, and more.
Before the lawsuit, firefighters in the city of Stuart frequently used firefighting foam that they believed was harmless. Emergency responders were exposed to it in training and would simply hose it away afterward, local news WPTV reported. But a 2017 investigation from city officials found that the widely used foam contained PFAS chemicals. In 2018, several homeowners in the city received a notice from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that groundwater near them tested positive for high levels of PFAS chemicals. The city filed its lawsuit at the end of 2018, demanding millions of dollars for water filtration and remediation.
Stuart, Florida is just one of several places currently suing major chemical manufacturing companies throughout the U.S. for PFAS contamination. The lawsuit that would have begun court proceedings on Monday is one of more than 4,000 filed against 3M and other industrial chemical manufacturers, Reuters reported. Just last week, Maryland was one of several other states to file a lawsuit against 3M and DuPont Baltimore Sun. The state’s attorney general’s office argued that the companies being sued should be held financially responsible for investigating and remediating PFAS contamination throughout Maryland. This March, Maine’s attorney general also sued several chemical manufacturers including DuPont and 3M for chemical contamination, the Associated Press reported.
Other major chemical companies are working to settle the many lawsuits against them, just as 3M is doing this month. Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva have agreed to pay over $1 billion to settle PFAS water contamination claims throughout the country, they announced last Friday. They agreed to pool money towards a settlement fund for about $1.185 billion, CNN Business reported.
It’s no surprise that chemical companies are being called to task, and have been asked to shell over millions per lawsuit. Manufacturers have known about the dangers of PFAS exposure since the early 1960s. Researchers from the University of California San Francisco recently published an analysis of previously secret industry documents outlining how DuPont and 3M leadership were aware of employees whose children were born with birth defects. A study released in 2022 found that there could be more than 50,000 sites in the U.S. that are contaminated with forever chemicals. It’s likely that this is an undercount, according to the study researchers.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposal to regulate PFOA and PFOS, which are two very common forms of PFAS. However, there is currently no federal limit for PFAS in drinking water. And 3M itself did announce in 2022 that it would stop producing forever chemicals by 2026. But this is after decades of toxic exposure for unsuspecting consumers that were unaware so many of their household items could make them sick.
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