New York's attorney general announced Tuesday that a global industrial manufacturing company has agreed to adjust the terms of a proposed $10.5 billion settlement to $12.5 billion for its alleged role in contaminating millions of Americans’ drinking water with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – commonly referred to as "PFAS" or toxic "forever chemicals."
New York Attorney General Letitia James said she joined a bipartisan coalition of 22 attorneys general last month in objecting to the conglomerate 3M's proposed settlement with public water systems, flagging critical issues such as a provision that could have left taxpayers liable for future damages as a result of 3M’s alleged pollution.
After negotiations between the coalition of attorneys general and 3M co-led by the Office of the New York State Attorney General, the revised settlement announced Tuesday aims to address those issues and "substantially increase the value of the settlement for participating water systems."
"Corporate polluters like 3M should not be able to duck responsibility for contaminating our waters with toxic ‘forever chemicals’ that have caused devastating health problems," James said in a statement. "I am proud to have helped secure a better deal for the communities across New York and the nation affected by this pollution. This new agreement will ensure 3M is held accountable, and I will continue to use the full force of my office to fight for New Yorkers’ right to clean drinking water."
PFAS chemicals resist degradation in the environment and accumulate in the body. Health effects associated with exposure to PFAS include kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, immune system effects, and other conditions. According to the New York State Department of Health, PFAS have been detected in almost 40% of public drinking water supplies in the state, including 60% of systems serving more than 10,000 people. To date, New York has spent tens of millions of dollars on PFAS cleanup-related costs, James' office reported.
Among other things, 3M’s initial proposed settlement would have required eligible public water systems to waive their legal claims against 3M without knowing what settlement funds they could receive, and in many cases, before knowing the extent of contamination in their water supplies and the ongoing cost of remediating a "forever chemical."
Most critically, James' office and the bipartisan coalition took issue with the settlement provisions that would have required water providers to assume future liability, potentially leaving taxpayers to cover the costs of damages caused by 3M’s pollution.
The new settlement agreement will incorporate several critical changes that are reflected in a proposed consent order filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.
The changes include ensuring the uncapped indemnity in favor of 3M – which could have left water systems liable for damages well beyond their expected recovery from the settlement – is removed in its entirety, significantly increasing the value of the settlement to participating water systems.
The deadline for eligible water systems to review the settlement and determine whether to opt-out will be extended to 90 days. Another change ensures the establishment of a settlement-specific website with information that will allow water systems to derive a good-faith estimate of what they may receive under the 3M settlement agreement if they participate in it – although the attorney general's office notes the actual settlement awards will depend on data that is not yet available.
The final change states claims by states and the federal government are expressly carved out of the agreement, allowing for future action and additional settlements against 3M.
James was joined in her effort by attorney generals from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, as well as the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.
Fox News Digital reached out to 3M for comment Tuesday but did not immediately hear back.