In December 2022, 3M announced it will cease manufacturing of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by the end of 2025. While this announcement signals progress in addressing the issue of PFAS contamination in our water supply, it raises several questions and concerns for water providers, like:
- Why did it take this long to discontinue toxic chemicals?
- What does 3M mean when it says that it will “continue to remediate PFAS”?
- How does 3M’s announcement help us fix our current PFAS problem?
This news also comes after years of concern about the hazardous effects of PFAS and ultimately falls short by omitting plans for remediation and cleanup. In this article, we'll delve into the context surrounding this announcement and provide recommendations for water providers to navigate the situation effectively.
3M and PFAS Production
3M is a multinational conglomerate that has been at the forefront of PFAS production for several decades. The company began producing PFAS in the late 1940s, and it quickly became the main chemical used in non-stick cookware, firefighting foam, and food packaging. At the time, 3M was aware of the products’ toxicity and potential to pollute groundwater, yet they continued to manufacture PFAS and failed to provide any warning to the public.
These chemicals, known as forever chemicals, do not break down easily, and have been found in our water, soil, air, and food. PFAS exposure has since been scientifically linked to a range of health problems in humans and animals, including cancer, hormone disruption, and developmental problems.
For decades, the environmental and health impacts of PFAS were largely ignored. In recent years, a growing body of evidence displayed through films, documentaries, press coverage, and legislation has shed light on the pervasiveness and persistence of PFAS contamination. However, despite increased governmental regulations and heightened public awareness surrounding water pollution, 3M's production and distribution of toxic chemicals for over 70 years has had substantial and lasting effects.
The Weight on Water Providers
Water providers are trusted to provide clean and safe drinking water to their communities, and PFAS contamination can pose significant challenges for their operations. The presence of these toxic chemicals in the water supply is a major health risk, and cleanup requires considerable resources and expertise. In many cases, the costs of cleaning up PFAS contamination fall to the water providers themselves.
Over 20 years ago, our firm began representing water providers faced with contamination cleanup. Our aim is to hold 3M and other major corporations accountable for their role in PFAS contamination. By representing water systems in water contamination lawsuits, we aim to hold PFAS manufacturers accountable for the water pollution and secure the resources necessary to clean up the water supplies.
The timing of 3M’s announcement should not go unnoticed. A multidistrict litigation (MDL) bellwether case regarding aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) scheduled for mid-2023 may set the tone for future legal actions regarding PFAS contamination. Bellwether cases are chosen to represent a larger group of similar cases and in this case, the MDL bellwether case regarding AFFF could hold companies that manufactured and used PFAS in their products liable for pollution and damages. It may also result in significant financial compensation for affected communities and bring greater attention to the issue.
The EPA's Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5 (UCMR 5) now requires public water providers to monitor their systems for an expanded list of PFAS compounds. Water providers who detect PFAS in their water sources can then leverage technical resources to treat the contaminated water and legal support to help cover its costs. When the best course of action is unclear, environmental law firms are a great resource for water providers to help understand their obligations and options for addressing PFAS contamination and ensuring the continued safety of their water supply.
While 3M's announcement to stop making PFAS is a step in the right direction, it highlights the ongoing challenges that water providers have faced for decades in ensuring the safety of their communities. If you'd like to learn more about how to prepare and strategize your next steps after PFAS contamination detection, download our free guide PFAS Contamination Cost Recovery.