Attorney General James Announces Opposition to Proposed Settlement with 3M Company for Contaminating Drinking Water
AG James Joins Bipartisan Coalition of 23 Attorneys General to Slam Settlement that Could Leave Taxpayers Liable for Corporate Pollution
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced her opposition to a proposed class action settlement with the 3M Company (3M) that fails to hold the company accountable for contaminating the drinking water of millions of Americans. Together with a bipartisan group of 22 other attorneys general, Attorney General James noted that under the proposed settlement, public water systems would withdraw the hundreds of lawsuits they have filed against 3M over its use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly referred to as “PFAS” or toxic “forever chemicals” — in a wide range of consumer products and firefighting foams. The water systems would also have to withdraw their lawsuits without knowing what settlement funds they would receive from 3M. PFAS chemicals resist degradation in the environment and accumulate in the body. Health effects associated with exposure to them include kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, immune system effects, and other conditions.
“These toxic ‘forever chemicals’ have contaminated water supplies across the nation, including here in New York, and have caused devastating health problems,” said Attorney General James. “This proposed settlement would allow 3M to skirt responsibility for their pollution and could leave taxpayers on the hook for expensive cleanup efforts. New Yorkers have a basic right to clean drinking water, and I will not allow corporate polluters to avoid their responsibility to clean up their messes.”
States and municipalities have filed thousands of lawsuits against 3M and other companies in recent years for their role in PFAS pollution. PFAS chemicals tend to be persistent in the environment and have been used for decades as ingredients in fabrics, cosmetics, cookware, and more. According to the New York State Department of Health, PFAS have been detected in almost 40 percent of public drinking water supplies in the state, including 60 percent of systems serving more than 10,000 people. To date, New York has spent tens of millions of dollars on PFAS cleanup-related costs.
In the brief filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the bipartisan, multistate coalition warns that the proposed settlement would apply to thousands of public water systems in the United States, even those that have not sued and those that have yet to test for the presence of PFAS in their water.
Eligible water systems would be bound by the proposed settlement unless they proactively opt-out, and would have to do so without knowing what settlement funds they could receive. Additionally, water systems would have to opt-out in many cases before knowing the extent of contamination in their water supplies and the ongoing cost of remediating a “forever chemical”. In return for waiving their claims, 3M would pay out $10.5 to $12.5 billion to water providers, an amount that may be worth far less or even exceed the recovery because certain provisions may require water providers to indemnify 3M.
For example, if a cancer cluster develops in a PFAS-impacted community and the victims sue 3M, 3M would likely be able to seek indemnity from the community’s public water supplier for any amount 3M owed to the victims. If the water system is unable to meet the obligation, this burden may fall upon taxpayers.
Joining Attorney General James in opposing the proposed settlement are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, as well as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Attorney General James has been a leader in fighting to protect New Yorkers' access to clean water and a clean environment. This past March, Attorney General James led a lawsuit with Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos against 29 New York companies for illegally dumping waste. In May 2022, Attorney General James brought a lawsuit against three New York City bus companies for violating city and state bus idling laws and causing significant air pollution. In May 2020, Attorney General James led a coalition of nine attorneys general to sue the Trump administration for limiting enforcement of environmental protection laws. In addition to joining this multistate coalition, Attorney General James led multistate coalitions calling on leaders in Congress to strengthen public health and environmental protections against PFAS chemicals in November 2021. Attorney General James also led a coalition in July 2019 urging Congress to pass legislation that would help states address and prevent future PFAS pollution.
This matter is being handled by Senior Advisor & Special Counsel M. Umair Khan, Assistant Attorney General of the Environmental Protection bureau Mihir Desai, and Watershed Inspector General & Senior Counsel Philip Bein.