States sue 3M, DuPont over toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in drinking water - Tradewinds Water Filtration

States sue 3M, DuPont over toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in drinking water

Maine recently joined a growing list of states — which now includes New Mexico, Maryland, and Rhode Island — in filing litigation against several chemical manufacturers claiming they have caused significant harm to the state’s residents and natural resources.

“We’re alleging that 3M and DuPont [and other manufacturers] created these chemicals ... had the science that showed just how dangerous they were, how toxic they were, how they were going to last forever,” Frey said. “It is my responsibility to do whatever I can to hold accountable those companies that profited off of this chemical.”

More than a dozen other states — including Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin — have filed litigation against PFAS manufacturers over the years.

Some have already reached settlements. Minnesota, for example, settled with 3M for $850 million, and Delaware settled with DuPont and its spinoffs for $50 million, resolving the companies’ responsibility for damage in those states.

Wall Street is now awaiting a bellwether trial in federal court, set to begin Monday, in which the city of Stuart, Florida, alleges that firefighting foam chemicals manufactured by 3M contaminated its water supply.

What are PFAS?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS are a group of chemicals used to make coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.

The human-made substances date back to the 1940s, and over the decades, they’ve been used in a wide range of applications, including nonstick cookware, waterproof fabrics, carpeting, food packaging and cosmetics in addition to firefighting foam like that at the center of the lawsuit in Stuart.

But over time, concerns began to rise. CDC officials say the synthetic chemicals do not break down in the environment and are tied to serious health risks.

“We’ve seen correlations with thyroid disease, certain kinds of cancer, kidney disease, liver dysfunction, it becomes concentrated in the liver ... they’re called ‘forever chemicals’ because they stay in your body,” former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC. “I think what the government needs to do is step up testing, make sure that we have a better picture of where these chemicals are getting into food sources [and] in the water supply.”

While testing of PFAS is expected to become more prevalent in the years to come, Gottlieb said there are steps consumers can take now to assess their exposure. Residents who live close to a military base or an industrial plant that is known for making these chemicals should ask their local water utility if it has tested PFAS levels, he said.

“There was a big analysis done a number of years ago of different water municipalities that found that about 1% of all municipal water sources did contain some level of PFAS,” Gottlieb said.

More than 64 million people are affected by drinking water contaminated with PFAS — represented by a reading of 4 parts per trillion or above — according to an EPA report released in March.

Manufacturers respond

Several manufacturers have announced plans to reduce or discontinue the production of PFAS in the coming years. 

“As the science and technology of PFAS, societal and regulatory expectations, and our expectations of ourselves have evolved, so has how we manage PFAS,” a 3M spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC, adding the company plans to end production of the chemicals by 2025.

The company also expressed a commitment to remediate PFAS contamination, invest in water treatment and collaborate with communities. 

DuPont, on the other hand, said it has “never manufactured” the harmful chemicals and believes the legal complaints are “without merit.”

The company, formerly E.I. du Pont de Nemours, separated its chemical businesses in 2015, forming Chemours Company. It then merged with Dow in 2017 to create DowDuPont, and then subsequently split into three separate entities in 2019: Corteva Agriscience, Dow and the new DuPont.

All these companies, along with others, are named as defendants in Maine’s lawsuit. DuPont and Chemours have been severed from the bellwether trial where the city of Stuart, Florida is the main plaintiff.

On Friday, DuPont, Chemours and Corteva announced a $1.19 billion fund that will be used to resolve “PFAS-related drinking water claims.” However an addendum to a joint statement announcing the fund adds that it “does not include claims of personal injury due to alleged exposure to PFAS or claims by State Attorneys General that alleged PFAS contamination has damaged the State’s natural resources.”

Chemours pledged in 2018 to reduce PFAS emissions at its manufacturing sites by at least 99% by 2030. A spokesperson said in a statement it has made significant progress in implementing advanced technologies to minimize emissions of fluorinated organic compounds.

Dow denied manufacturing PFAS and said it is not accused of causing any environmental contamination.

A Corteva spokesperson told CNBC it “does not comment on ongoing legal matters.”

Mounting liabilities for 3M

RBC Capital Markets Managing Director Deane Dray sees the lawsuits as a particular financial risk to 3M.

“At this stage, given valuation and what we know about the PFAS litigation, we do consider 3M to be uninvestable at this point,” Dray told CNBC.

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