Lawsuit over groundwater contamination in Minnesota settled for US$850 million

Published:  02 March, 2018

The legal action was launched in 2010 by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, alleging widespread water contamination caused by the dumping of millions of pounds of industrial waste containing perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in the ground and water in the east metropolitan area of the Twin Cities for more than 40 years from the 1950s.

Swanson was seeking up to US$5 billion in damages from 3M to clean up the resulting groundwater pollution in Minnesota. 3M denied the State’s claims.

3M began manufacturing PFCs in the 1950s for use in its stain-repellent Scotchguard product. The chemicals were later sold to another company to make firefighting foam.

The use of aqueous film-forming foams containing perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoro-octane sulfonate (PFOS) in firefighting and firefighting training activities has led to numerous cases of ground and water contamination around the world, particularly in the US and Australia.

PFOS is listed as a Persistent Organic Pollutant under the Stockholm Convention.

The settlement was announced on 20 February 2018, the day the jury trial was scheduled to start hearing the case. The money is described as a grant for a ‘water quality and sustainability fund’. In a statement, 3M said this would fund projects to support water sustainability in the Twin Cities East Metro region, including delivery of water to residents, enhancing groundwater recharge to support sustainable growth, and habitat and recreation improvements.

In its statement about the settlement, 3M denied any liability and said it was ‘proud of its record of environmental stewardship’ and that it does not believe there is a ‘PFC-related public health risk’.

3M sold the fluorochemicals to DuPont, which used these in its non-stick Teflon finish for kitchen equipment and other products. Last year, DuPont and Chemours, a DuPont spin-off company, agreed to settle more than 3,500 personal injury lawsuits relating to a PFOA leak in Ohio and West Virginia for US$671 million.

PFOA is a PFC compound that has been linked to certain types of cancers and thyroid disease.

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