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Gov Evers, Attorney General Kaul criticize 3M’s proposed settlement in PFAS contamination lawsuit

by Henry Redman, Wisconsin Examiner
July 27, 2023

Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul joined a bipartisan group of officials from more than 20 states to criticize a proposed $10 billion settlement in a class action lawsuit against the corporate giant 3M for contaminating American’s drinking water supply with harmful chemicals known as “forever chemicals.” 

Kaul and 21 other attorneys general argue that 3M’s proposed settlement could do more harm than good while sometimes forcing water utilities to reimburse the company for costs and putting responsibility for clean up in the hands of taxpayers even if it’s proved that 3M is responsible for water contamination. 

“Every Wisconsinite deserves access to clean, safe water, free of PFAS and other harmful contaminants that we know are detrimental to our kids, families, farmers, and communities,” Evers said in a statement. “Communities across our state are dealing with the effects of PFAS contamination, and we know folks and families are already facing enormous costs to get these harmful pollutants out of our water supplies. I promised the people of Wisconsin we would work to ensure those responsible are held accountable and would fight to make sure taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill to clean up the messes that others made — this settlement falls short of that commitment.”

PFAS are a family of chemical compounds that are called forever chemicals because they don’t break down easily in the body or the environment. The chemicals have been connected to harmful health effects, including cancer. PFAS have been used in certain types of firefighting foams as well as household goods such as nonstick pans and fast food wrappers. 

A number of communities across Wisconsin have found PFAS in their water supplies, including Marinette, Madison and Wausau. 

If approved, the settlement would likely provide $10.5 billion to $12.5 billion to water utilities across the country, yet if a utility opts in to the settlement it would do so without knowing how much money it would receive and often without knowing the extent of its contamination, according to a legal brief outlining the opposition to the proposal. 

Additionally, utilities that opt in to the settlement would be unable to sue 3M for any contamination the company has caused. 

“The Settlement is worth far less to class members than its top-line value suggests,” the brief states. “At best, the indemnity provision will create a massive, open-ended risk for thousands of public water suppliers across the United States. At worst, class members will be left much worse off under the Settlement, paying 3M for its own liabilities while retaining insufficient funds to address the drinking water pollution caused by 3M’s PFAS.” 

Any settlement must be approved by the federal judge overseeing the case in a South Carolina District Court. Kaul said that whatever the settlement ultimately is, it should make sure taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the cost of cleaning up 3M’s PFAS contamination. 

“We must ensure that our drinking water is safe from toxic forever chemicals and that taxpayers aren’t left to foot the bill for remediating PFAS contamination,” Kaul said. “We will continue working to hold the companies that profited from the production and sale of PFAS accountable.”

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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