Posted by : Irvin Jackson
In a long-anticipated announcement, 3M Company says it will stop producing toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by 2025, but the move will still leave the manufacturer exposed to years of liability exposure over adverse health effects and environmental damage caused by the “forever chemicals”, which are known to persist in the environment and build up in the human body.
In a press release issued on December 20, 3M announced that it will exit PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025.
The company claims the decision was based on an evaluation of multiple factors, such as increasing regulation focused on eliminating PFAS from the environment. However, the move appears clearly related to the impending damages the company is likely to face from PFAS water contamination lawsuit payouts, which are being pursued by communities nationwide, as well as individuals diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, cancer, and other injuries.
PFAS Forever Chemical Concerns
PFAS are a group of over 9,000 man-made chemicals that have been frequently used in consumer and industrial products to resist grease, oil, and water since the 1940s.
While they are widely found in products like non-stick pans, pizza boxes and other materials, the chemicals have caused widespread water contamination problems from firefighting foam, which has been used to combat fuel-based fires for decades, particularly at military bases, airports, and other firefighter training locations.
As a result of the harmful effects of the chemicals, 3M Company and many other manufacturers face hundreds of firefighting foam cancer lawsuits brought by former users, alleging that they were not adequately warned about the health risks of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used by both military and civilian firefighters. In addition, a number of communities and local water suppliers have also filed lawsuits, particularly targeting 3M, over the costs associated with cleaning up the chemicals from drinking water. The company also faces water contamination lawsuits brought by individuals who lived near military bases and other areas with high levels of the chemicals in their tap water.
Exposure to firefighting foam chemicals may result in an increased risk of cancer for firefighters, military and airport personnel.
3M says that by the end of 2025 it will discontinue the manufacture of all fluoropolymers, fluorinated fluids, and PFAS-based additives. The company pledges to help transition other manufacturers who purchase the chemicals away from those products and will fulfill current contractual obligations while it transitions.
The company also indicates it will work to discontinue the use of PFAS products across its portfolio within the same time frame. However, even in the announcement, 3M defended the safety of PFAS chemicals.
“While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to make the greatest impact for those we serve,” 3M’s Chairman and CEO, Mike Roman, said in the press release. “This action is another example of how we are positioning 3M for continued sustainable growth by optimizing our portfolio, innovating for our customers, and delivering long-term value for our shareholders.”
3M Firefighter Foam and PFAS Water Contamination Lawsuits
Despite the move, critics note that 3M will continue to face thousands of lawsuits indicating its firefighting foam and other chemical products contributed to water contamination and adverse health problems nationwide.
There are currently about 3,000 product liability lawsuits over toxic PFAS effects pending nationwide against 3M and a host of other companies, each involving similar allegations that the companies failed to warn about the long-term health risks from exposure to the chemicals.
The number of claims is likely to continue to grow for decades, given the nature of PFAS, which earned the name forever chemicals due to their persistence in the environment, meaning they will likely continue to be a toxic threat to water supplies and human health for a long time to come, and 3M could be held liable for much of that as lawsuits continue to be filed for years.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits being filed against 3M Company, Dupont, and other manufacturers of PFAS chemicals and fire safety equipment, consolidated pretrial proceedings have been established in the federal court system, where claims brought nationwide are all centralized before one judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery and a series of early trial dates to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.
Earlier this year, the Court selected a PFAS water contamination lawsuits for the first bellwether trial, which will go before a jury in 2023. While the outcome of the first trials will not be binding on firefighters or other plaintiffs, they will be closely watched and may influence future settlement negotiations over the PFAS cancer risks.
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