A U.S. district judge in South Carolina preliminarily approved 3M’s $10.3 billion “forever chemicals” settlement proposal on Tuesday, another step forward in the company’s legal process to settle allegations it contaminated public water supplies with PFAS.
“It’s certainly an important step forward for 3M,” EVP and Chief Legal Affairs Officer Kevin Rhodes told analysts on a call Wednesday. “Drinking water claims have been a major focus of the PFAS litigation to date, and the public water systems cases constitute a significant portion of our PFAS litigation docket.”
The settlement will cover public water suppliers that contain any level of “forever chemicals,” as well as suppliers that may find PFAS in their systems in the future. It will also provide public water suppliers across the U.S. with funding for PFAS testing in their systems.
The U.S. District Court in South Carolina will hold a final fairness hearing on Feb. 2 to fully approve the settlement.
“The federal court’s preliminary approval of 3M Company’s settlement with the plaintiff public water systems brings us one step closer to allocating billions of dollars towards clean drinking water for countless Americans whose lives have been disrupted by this crisis,” lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a joint statement.
As part of the settlement, 3M will be relieved of some PFAS-related water contamination claims, including claims for damages, loss or injury. The funds will be paid over 13 years and could later grow to as much as $12.5 billion, according to a securities filing. The earliest possible payment date is July 1 of next year, according to court documents.
3M and fellow chemical giant DuPont have also established a settlement-specific website for class members to view and estimate the amount of money they may receive under the proposed settlement agreement if they choose to participate, which is now live. Using the estimate tool could allow possible recipients to better determine if they wish to opt into the settlement or seek another resolution.
The approval comes a day after 3M, the water supplier plaintiffs and states named in the suit submitted a request to amend the proposed settlement. The amendments include extending the deadline for settlement class members to submit a request to opt out of the settlement from 60 days to 90 days and a revised payment schedule.
The amendments also pushed attorneys general to withdraw their motions against the company’s proposed settlement. Last month, 22 attorneys general across the U.S. filed a motion opposing 3M’s proposed $10.3 billion resolution, saying they didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the class settlement approval process and had only three weeks to review the settlement and decide on how it may impact their rights.
The chemical titan met with the state attorneys general offices and addressed their concerns, Rhodes told analysts.
“So we’re now in a position [where] the parties believe the settlement is fair for the class members, and the overall agreement is now before the MDL court for preliminary approval,” Rhodes said.
The $10.3 billion settlement only resolves a portion of 3M’s forever chemicals litigation. Other claims involving wastewater and personal injury, or cases overseas, will take time to resolve, Rhodes told analysts.
“It would be premature at this point to talk about how those might be resolved or when,” Rhodes said. “What I can say is that we’ll continue to address the remainder of the PFAS docket by defending ourselves in court or through negotiated resolutions all as appropriate and will continue to share information as we can in our SEC filings.”