3M will pay a minimum of $10.5 billion and a maximum of $12.5 billion to settle claims that it contaminated drinking water supplies across the country with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, or forever chemicals. 

“3M knowingly polluted the world with its cancer-causing chemicals that are now found in the blood of 98% of Americans. This settlement provides the critical funding needed to protect Americans and remove these toxic substances from our nation’s drinking water,” Wes Bowden, an attorney with Levin Papantonio Rafferty who was involved in the settlement talks, said in a statement. 

The company, known for making everyday items such as Scotch tape and Post-it notes, will pay the sum over the course of 13 years. Funds will be used to remove and test for forever chemicals in water supplies in municipalities across the nation. This is just one of approximately 4,000 similar lawsuits linked to PFAS pollution that 3M is facing.

Lawsuits filed against 3M claim the company was aware forever chemicals had seeped into U.S. drinking water supplies and had the potential to cause several health issues, including cancer. 3M has agreed to the settlement, but the company isn’t admitting any liability. It did say it will discontinue all manufacturing of forever chemicals by the end of 2025.

PFAS include about 5,000 different substances that have been produced since the 1940s. A recent Harvard study showed higher levels of forever chemicals in drinking water near military bases. The chemicals are found in aqueous film forming foams used to fight fires and in training exercises. This foam is at the center of hundreds of AFFF lawsuits

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Recent Forever Chemical Settlements

The settlement recently made by 3M comes just a few weeks after other companies agreed to their own settlement. Chemical manufacturers Chemours, DuPont and Corteva announced in early June that they will pay more than $1 billion to settle claims they contaminated drinking water with forever chemicals. 

Chemours, DuPont and Corteva agreed to the settlement, but they deny all allegations. A fund will be created to help pay to remove the toxins from public drinking water, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it’s still uncertain exactly how that will happen. 

“EPA’s researchers and partners across the country are working hard to answer critical questions about PFAS,” the EPA stated. “Researchers are studying the effectiveness of various technologies at removing PFAS from drinking water.” 

Avoiding PFAS and Related Health Risks

Almost everyone has come into contact with forever chemicals through water, food or consumer products. But there are still things consumers can do to limit exposure to items that contain PFAS. 

The Environmental Working Group advocacy organization has some suggestions of products to avoid that may contain PFAS:

  • Microwave popcorn (packaging)
  • Nonstick cookware
  • Personal care products with “PTFE” or “fluoro” ingredients 
  • Processed and fast foods (containers)
  • Stain-resistant carpets and fabrics

PFAS can build up in the human body and in the environment since they don’t break down. The toxic chemicals are linked to several health issues, including cancer and learning and behavioral problems in children.

Other possible health risks include: 

  • Fertility issues
  • Immune system effects
  • Increased cholesterol 
  • Thyroid disease
  • Ulcerative colitis

Those most at risk from forever chemicals include the immunocompromised, children, and pregnant and nursing women. In addition, those with health conditions such as cancer or liver disease are at increased risk.