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Rejecting 3M, DuPont PFAS settlements risks decade-long legal fights, judge warns

PFAS Settlements - A U.S. judge overseeing thousands of lawsuits involving the toxicity of "forever chemicals" on Tuesday warned that any water provider that refuses to sign deals that are being negotiated with 3M, DuPont de Nemours and others could have to wait a decade for the resolution of the individual case.

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December 8 (The Justice Now) –U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston, South Carolina, issued the warning while water companies are examining two settlement proposals that total nearly $11.5 billion, which would pay for the cleanup of drinking water that is contaminated with the poly-fluoroalkyl compounds known as PFAS. The settlements could be cancelled when many water utilities choose to stay out.

The PFAS class is a group of chemicals used in various products, including firefighting foams and nonstick pans. They have also been linked to cancer as well as other ailments.

Gergel claimed he’d been informed that water companies were told that their cases would get “promptly” removed to different courts for resolution if they chose not to participate and that anyone relying on the knowledge had been “misinformed.” Gergel is in charge of many lawsuits consolidated in his court relating to PFAS pollution caused by foams used to fight fires, including Water utility lawsuits.

The final approval of the $1.19 million settlement reached between DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva will be discussed in December. Fourteen meetings and the final acceptance of the 3M’s $10.3 billion settlement will be considered in February. Water utilities faced the deadline to opt-out from the DuPont settlement on Monday. They will have until December. 11 to withdraw from the 3M settlement.

The agreements aren’t a reality if the utilities opt out in a certain amount. However, that threshold isn’t public. A few municipalities and districts of water have applied to opt out of the settlements, and over 22 local governments and other government agencies in New York, Texas, Colorado, California and elsewhere have deemed the agreements insufficient.

Gergel stated that any utility not wanting to participate in the settlements shouldn’t expect the cases to be resolved promptly. The attorney said individual claims would not be returned to the original courts but would remain in the multidistrict litigation in at least the “foreseeable future.”

It’s “realistic” to think individual cases may “take up to a decade” to settle independently”, he added.

Water utilities’ lawyers representing those chosen to opt out of the program have not responded to inquiries for comment.

Paul Napoli, a lead attorney who negotiated the settlements for the plaintiffs, stated that the judge’s order “should serve as a sobering reminder of the immense challenges and delays inherent in pursuing individual litigation paths.”

A 3M spokesperson confirmed that the CEO Mike Roman told financial analysts Monday morning when they were asked about water companies quitting the agreement, that the company was determined to work to address their concerns.

The case is called In Re Aqueous Film-Forming Product and Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, case no. 2:18-mn-02873.

The plaintiffs are Paul Napoli of Napoli Shkolnik, Michael London of Douglas & London, and Scott Summy of Baron & Budd.

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