Accessibility links

Breaking News

Fight Against 'Forever Chemicals' Bears Fruit

FILE: A water sample is measured as part of a PFAS "forever chemicals" drinking water treatment experiment, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response in Cincinnati, Ohio.

PARIS — Chemicals giants have agreed to pay billions of dollars to end lawsuits over contamination from toxic "forever" chemicals found in everyday products such as non-stick frying pans and waterproof clothing.

Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), so-called "forever" chemicals that take a very long time to break down in nature, have been linked to cancer, infertility and environmental damage, among other complaints.

On June 22, U.S. industrial conglomerate 3M said it would pay up to $12.5 billion to settle numerous claims from U.S. public water systems accusing it of tainting their supplies with the pollutants.

3M says it will pay between $10.5 and $12.5 billion over 13 years to public water systems across the United States to test and treat water for PFAS.

The deal, which has to be approved by a judge, is the largest involving drinking water in U.S. history.

It centers on 3M's use of firefighting foams containing PFAS, which are accused of polluting groundwater.

In July 2022, 3M agreed to a settlement of 571 million euros ($612 million) with the Belgian region of Flanders over alleged PFAS pollution from its Zwijndrecht plant, near the city of Antwerp.

Flemish authorities released a study showing that people living near the plant had high levels of a type of PFAS in their blood.

In May this year, the government of the neighboring Netherlands said it would seek compensation from 3M for pollution caused by the same plant in the Western Scheldt river.

Dutch authorities last year warned against eating fish, shrimp, mussels and other products from the river.

3M, which also produces post-it notes and Covid face masks, said in December that it would stop manufacturing PFAS substances by the end of 2025.

3M is not alone in facing "forever chemicals" legal action.

Just days before the mega-settlement reached by 3M in the United States, U.S. chemicals giant DuPont and its spinoffs Chemours and Corteva announced in early June they would pay nearly $1.2 billion to settle claims they contaminated water sources serving "the vast majority of the United States population" with PFAS.

DuPont lost the case after a 19-year legal battle.

And the fight against PFAS is not limited to the United States

Firefighting chemicals were at the heart of a class action suit taken against the Australian government, which it settled in May.

Around 30,000 people claimed that the military's use of firefighting foam containing PFAS had contaminated land around army bases and decreased property values.

They sought Aus$132.7 million (US$88 million) in compensation. The legal settlement was confidential.