Monday, April 15, 2024

CFPUA joins 3M class action suit with possible $10B settlement

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has detected high levels of 1,4-dioxane in the Cape Fear River (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday to participate in the possible 3M settlement announced in June. (Port City Daily/file)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The local water authority has voted to participate in a class action suit against a PFAS manufacturer responsible for contamination nationwide.

READ MORE: CFPUA budget includes 4.6% rate increase

ALSO: CFPUA files second lawsuit against DuPont, Chemours

In a special-called meeting Wednesday, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority unanimously agreed to make a claim in the class action suit against 3M, a Minnesota-based company known for producing Post-Its and Scotch tape. The company works in industry, worker safety, healthcare, and consumer goods fields, and makes products with PFAS, such as Novec aircraft cleaner, fluorinert electronic liquid and other fluoropolymer products, all used in medical devices.

A multi-district litigation against the company is pending in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina. Around 300 utility companies have joined the suit and under present terms, 3M has agreed to contribute up to $10.3 billion over 13 years.

Because of 3M’s mass pollution of PFAS nationwide, any active public water systems in the U.S. — with one or more sources impacted by PFAS contamination as of June 22, 2023 — are considered class members unless they opt out by Dec. 12.

In June, 3M entered into a broad class resolution to support PFAS remediation or public water suppliers that detect PFAS at any level. The settlement provides funding for PFAS treatment technology for water suppliers; the settlement will prevent any current or future litigation moving forward from public utilities that find PFOA, PFOS and other PFAS.

The resolution also provides funding to conduct PFAS testing nationwide.

According to a 3M press release from June, the settlement is not an admission of liability.

“If the agreement is not approved by the court or certain agreed terms are not fulfilled, 3M is prepared to continue to defend itself in the litigation,” the release states.

Federal District Judge Richard M. Gergel will consider final approval of the settlement in a hearing scheduled Feb. 2, 2024, in Charleston, South Carolina. Any awarded funds will not be available until an administrator analyzes all submitted claims.

Port City Daily reached out to CFPUA to ask how settlement funds could impact customers’ rates.

“Because this is pending litigation, we cannot offer any comment beyond what’s in the release,” spokesperson Vaughn Hagerty said.

Participation in the 3M settlement has no impact to CFPUA’s other ongoing lawsuits against companies regarding PFAS pollution.

In October 2017, CFPUA filed suit against Chemours and its predecessor company DuPont in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to recover cost and damages related to the companies’ decades of pollution into the Cape Fear River.

Associated costs include CFPUA’s $43 million spent to build granular-activated carbon filters at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant; the technology came online October 2022.

Also earlier this year, CFPUA filed a lawsuit in Delaware’s Court of Chancery seeking to prevent financial restructuring of DuPont, Chemours and related spinoff companies. The move would allow the companies to avoid liability for damage resulting from their ongoing PFAS contamination from Fayetteville Works in Bladen County.

Hagerty told Port City Daily in March the decision to file the lawsuit was made following a recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling that found DuPont’s offloading of assets was an attempt to evade accountability, but they are still liable.

CFPUA estimates protecting its consumers from PFAS has cost the authority more than $64 million, with future costs and punitive damages exceeding $174 million.

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