Manufacturing and chemical giant 3M will pay $850 million to settle a lawsuit with the state of Minnesota over groundwater contaminated with Perfluorinated Compounds, or PFCs. 3M is also one of several companies named in a lawsuit over PFC contamination identified in El Paso County drinking water in 2016.
Some 7,000 residents of Fountain, Security, and Widefield have signed onto the local suit, which alleges that 3M and other manufacturers knew the health risks associated with PFC contamination, but failed to warn the Air Force, which used firefighting foams containing the chemicals at Peterson Air Force Base for years. The EPA says exposure to high-levels of PFCs may be linked to certain cancers and other conditions.
Mike McDivitt is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Colorado. He says the facts in Minnesota are different, but he sees the settlement as a sign that 3M is worried.
"You don’t pay $850 some million unless you think there’s a problem that a jury might tag you for," he explains.
3M denies allegations of wrongdoing. In a statement announcing the settlement, the Minnesota-based company said it “does not believe there is a PFC-related public health issue,” adding that "this settlement reflects our commitment to acting with integrity and conducting business in a sustainable way that is in the best interest of all who live and work in Minnesota.”
Minnesota Public Radio reports that jury selection was set to begin this week in the case, which had been ongoing since 2010. The state sought $5 billion in damages from 3M for groundwater contamination related to the manufacturing of PFC-containing products at a plant in the eastern suburbs of Minneapolis-St Paul. The $850 million settlement will go toward "constructing new wells, connecting people on private wells to municipal water sources, or cleaning up existing water supplies" in the affected area, MPR reports.
In Colorado, the suit against 3M and other manufacturers is currently in discovery phase, says attorney McDivitt. Plaintiffs in the case claim that they have experienced or are at elevated risk of adverse health effects due to high levels of PFCs in their blood. They are also seeking damages for lost property value due to the discovery of PFC contamination in the Widefield aquifer, which has long been an important water source for the districts of Security, Widefield, and Fountain.
A judge will soon decide whether to certify a class action suit, which could automatically cover tens of thousands of residents living in southern El Paso County. A trial is currently scheduled for April of 2019.
Southern Colorado is changing a lot these days. We can help you keep up. Sign up for the KRCC Weekly Digest here and get the stories that matter to Southern Colorado, delivered straight to your inbox.