On Tuesday, 3M settled a suit filed by the state of Minnesota for $850 million, averting a much-awaited trial over the company’s responsibility for massive amounts of waste containing perfluorinated chemicals, which it had dumped in the state for more than 40 years.
The suit charged that the Minnesota-based company, which made the perfluorinated chemicals for use in Scotchgard, firefighting foam, and other products, “acted with a deliberate disregard for the high risk of injury to the citizens and wildlife of Minnesota.”
The complaint details how chemicals from the plant seeped into Minnesota’s drinking water and accuses the company of covering up the knowledge that its perfluorinated products, including PFOA, PFOS, PFBA, and FPBS, accumulate in people’s bodies and present a health hazard. According to expert testimony filed in the case, tens of thousands of Minnesota residents were likely exposed to the chemicals. Perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, belong to a broad class of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, and are associated with immune, hormonal, and reproductive problems, including miscarriage and thyroid dysfunction.
With the settlement, 3M avoided any admission of liability. “We do not believe there is a PFC-related public health issue,” said John Banovetz, senior vice president, 3M Research & Development, and chief technology officer, in the company’s statement. The statement also said that the “settlement will ensure that the money 3M contributes to the State will go directly to activities and projects related to the reduction of PFCs in the environment and also to the enhancement of groundwater sustainability in the Twin Cities East Metro area.” The statement also described the settlement as “consistent with 3M’s long history of environmental stewardship.”
Critically, the settlement also allows 3M to largely escape a public airing of how it shielded itself from responsibility for PFOA contamination even though DuPont, which bought PFOA from 3M for years, was held liable for causing kidney cancer and other diseases.