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Business News/ Special-reports / Chemours, DuPont, Corteva Settle PFAS Litigation for $1.185 Billion
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Chemours, DuPont, Corteva Settle PFAS Litigation for $1.185 Billion

wsj

Lawsuits say chemical-laden firefighting foam contaminated drinking water

The city of Stuart, Fla., is suing 3M after having to install a filtration system to remove PFAS from drinking water and contaminated soil.Premium
The city of Stuart, Fla., is suing 3M after having to install a filtration system to remove PFAS from drinking water and contaminated soil.

Three companies with ties to former chemical maker DuPont said Friday that they have agreed to pay $1.185 billion in the first major settlement in a landmark environmental fight in which hundreds of communities allege that so-called “forever chemicals" in firefighting foam contaminated drinking water.

Chemours, DuPont and Corteva reached the proposed nationwide class-action settlement to resolve their part in lawsuits brought by about 300 communities against an array of chemical companies and others that made or sold firefighting foam.

Cities from Philadelphia to San Diego say that PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam leached into drinking water, requiring the water systems to install treatment systems. Cities have sued to recoup those costs, typically seeking damages in the tens of millions of dollars.

The companies said the agreement would resolve all PFAS-related water-system claims against them. They said the settlement could eventually cover public systems that provide drinking water to the majority of the U.S. population.

The current settlement wouldn’t resolve water-system lawsuits against other companies, including 3M, which is set to go to trial in federal court Monday in a case brought by a Florida city.

Chemours said it would contribute half of the settlement funds, or about $592 million, while DuPont would contribute about $400 million, and Corteva would contribute about $193 million. The companies said the money would be deposited into a water-district settlement fund within 10 days following preliminary approval of the settlement by the court.

The settlement would exclude water systems operated by the U.S. government, as well as small systems that haven’t detected PFAS and aren’t required to test for it, the companies said. If too many systems opt out of the settlement, the companies said they have the right to terminate it.

“If a settlement cannot be finalized and approved and plaintiffs elect to pursue their claims in court, the companies will continue to assert their strong legal defenses in pending litigation," the companies said.

Plaintiffs attorneys said the settlement wouldn’t resolve other lawsuits filed against the three companies such as personal-injury claims brought by firefighters, military personnel and others who say exposure to the foam caused cancer and other illnesses. Other foam-related lawsuits pending involve claims for cleaning up soil and groundwater.

Paul Napoli, a lead plaintiffs attorney in the firefighting-foam litigation, said the proposed settlement was a “significant stride toward justice." But citing the remaining claims, he said the plaintiffs would “relentlessly continue to demand DuPont and others fully answer for their actions."

“The wake of their actions has left an indelible mark on countless Americans, causing personal injuries and cancer, including among our bravest—firefighters and military personnel who have developed cancer due to exposure to these chemicals," Napoli said. “This settlement barely scratches the surface of the vast harm inflicted."

Chemours, DuPont and Corteva have previously said that they believe the firefighting-foam complaints are without merit, and that they look forward “to vigorously defending our record of safety, health and environmental stewardship."

The proposed settlement is subject to the approval of Judge Richard Gergel in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. He is overseeing more than 4,000 lawsuits involving PFAS in firefighting foam that have been consolidated.

In 2021, DuPont entered into an agreement to share future PFAS liability costs with Chemours and Corteva, two companies spun off from DuPont’s predecessor businesses during the past decade. The agreement is set to last until 2040 and is capped at $4 billion.

The total PFAS liability for DuPont, Chemours and Corteva, which would include other lawsuits that don’t involve firefighting foam, such as personal-injury claims tied to industrial discharges of the chemicals, has been estimated at $19.5 billion by Capstone, a Washington-based firm that advises investors and companies on regulatory issues.

Chemours, which was spun off from DuPont in 2015, now operates DuPont’s legacy chemicals business.

Chemours said in legal filings that the company never manufactured or sold firefighting foam containing PFAS. Before the spinoff, the former DuPont had made chemicals which were then used by other companies that made and sold the foam.

PFAS, once used in everything from pizza boxes to semiconductors, have increasingly been the focus of regulations and efforts by companies to remove them amid mounting evidence linking them to cancers and other health problems. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first federal limits on six types of PFAS in drinking water, which the agency said could require water systems serving up to 94 million people to install costly treatment systems.

The number of lawsuits involving PFAS has exploded amid growing regulations. Cases involving firefighting foam that contained the chemicals have grown from about 75 in 2018 to more than 4,000 today. PFAS are called forever chemicals because they don’t break down in the environment.

The settlement announced Friday comes on the eve of the first bellwether trial in that litigation, set to begin Monday in Judge Gergel’s courtroom in Charleston, S.C. The trial will pit Stuart, Fla., a city of 18,000 north of Palm Beach, against 3M, once a leading manufacturer of firefighting foam containing PFAS.

Stuart has sued 3M for $115 million to recover the cost of installing and operating a filtration system over the next 40 years to remove PFAS from the city’s drinking water and to clean up contaminated soil.

3M and the other companies have said in legal filings that the chemicals haven’t been shown to cause health problems at the levels being discovered in drinking water. It has argued in court filings that the city is seeking “wildly inflated damages."

3M has said that “PFAS are safely made and used in many modern products" but that it would no longer manufacture the chemicals by the end of 2025 because of increased regulations focused on reducing their presence in the environment.

The firefighting foam, known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, had been widely used since the 1960s by the military and fire departments, often during training exercises in which the foam was allowed to seep into the groundwater.

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