Attorney General Bonta Leads Coalition in Calling for 3M to Pay More and Sooner for Contaminating Americans’ Drinking Water Supply with Toxic PFAS

Tuesday, August 29, 2023
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OAKLAND  Leading a coalition of five attorneys general, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced filing an amicus letter expressing strong concerns regarding 3M’s revised proposed class action settlement with public water suppliers. While 3M made several important concessions at the request of states led by Attorney General Bonta, 3M declined to pay more than the $10 billion to $12 billion set forth in the original proposed settlement, which falls far short of the amount needed to remediate the PFAS contamination caused by 3M to Americans’ drinking water supply. 3M also declined to pay the settlement amount more quickly, insisting that it be paid out over a decade — even while 3M’s own attorneys share concerns about bankruptcy in light of its many PFAS and other liabilities. Although the revised proposed settlement would not apply to Attorney General Bonta’s lawsuit against 3M and other PFAS manufacturers filed on November 10, 2022, it could apply to certain California water systems if they do not choose to opt out of the settlement.

“Like DuPont, 3M has agreed to modify its original proposed settlement in critical ways that will benefit the American people. The states fought hard for those changes. For example, the revised proposed settlement no longer tries to prevent states from pursuing their own PFAS lawsuits against 3M — California will continue doing just that,” said Attorney General Bonta. “However, 3M declined to pay an amount that accurately reflects the extraordinary damage it has caused to public drinking water systems, and it declined to provide water suppliers the money to remediate that damage more quickly. Our coalition has filed an amicus letter to make sure the court knows about our outstanding concerns.” 

In their amicus letter to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the California-led coalition writes that: 

  • The revised settlement still includes a very protracted payment schedule that makes water suppliers bear the risk of 3M’s insolvency for over a decade. Specifically, 3M will pay thirteen annual installments between 2024 and 2036.
  • $10 billion to $12 billion represents a tiny fraction of the damages 3M caused to water suppliers over the span of almost eight decades. 3M has been producing PFAS since the 1940s. 
  • A recent study by the American Water Works Association, a major membership organization that includes public water systems, predicts nationwide costs for PFAS regulatory compliance that dwarf the settlement amount. With water utilities being unable to cover the full costs of drinking water monitoring and treatment, they will need to pass costs on to ratepayers — American residents and businesses.
  • The costs for public water systems in California alone to investigate, test, purchase additional real property to install treatment infrastructure, install that infrastructure, and operate and maintain that equipment for decades would also easily dwarf the settlement amount.

On July 26, 2023, Attorney General Bonta led a bipartisan coalition of 23 attorneys general in opposing 3M’s original proposed settlement given several fatal problems. Along with today’s amicus letter, the attorneys general are withdrawing that opposition because 3M has agreed to the following revisions:

  • Modify the revised proposed settlement in several places to make clear the claims filed by Attorney General Bonta in his November 2022 lawsuit and other attorneys general will not be impaired.
  • Modify the terms of any proposed anti-suit injunction to ensure that the states remain free to file PFAS-related claims against 3M.
  • Eliminate an indemnification clause in the agreement that would have unfairly shifted future liability from 3M to water suppliers bound by the settlement because they decided not to proactively opt out.
  • Provide public water providers with a method for estimating the payout amounts they would receive. Under the original proposed settlement, they would have had to make their opt-out decisions without that information.
  • Give public water providers 90 days to opt out, instead of the 60 days included in the original proposed settlement.

PFAS have been widely used in consumer products including food packaging, cookware, clothing, carpets, shoes, fabrics, polishes, waxes, paints, and cleaning products, as well as in firefighting foams designed to quickly smother liquid fuel fires. PFAS are stable in the environment, resistant to degradation, persistent in soil, and known to leach into groundwater. In 2021, the California Legislature passed and Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1200, which restricts the manufacture, distribution, and sale of food packaging that contains PFAS and requires manufacturers of cookware to disclose the presence of certain chemicals on the internet or product label. 

Joining Attorney General Bonta in filing the amicus letter are the attorneys general of Arizona, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

A copy of the amicus letter is available here and a copy of the consent motion with the revisions to the proposed settlement is available here.

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