On February 20, 2018, 3M and the State of Minnesota agreed to settle the nearly decade-long lawsuit involving the company’s disposal of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in several landfills in Washington County. The State sued 3M in 2010. They alleged the company knew the chemicals were hazardous. Furthermore, that their disposal caused up to $5 billion in damage to property values, wildlife, and human health after the chemicals leached into ground water in the East Metropolitan area of Minneapolis St. Paul. 3M denies that the chemicals pose a public-health issue.
The settlement agreement was reached on the first day of trial, just before jury selection was scheduled to begin. Under the agreement, 3M has promised to pay $850 million for natural resource damages, about 12% of which will be paid to Covington & Burling, the law firm the State retained to bring the suit on a contingency-fee basis. The remainder of the settlement payment will be placed in a trust administered by the Commissioners of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the State of Minnesota’s Natural Resource Trustees. The funds will be used on water-remediation projects in the East Metro. These include: cleanup of water supplies, construction of new wells, and habitat and recreation improvements.
The settlement comes about a week after the Minnesota Department of Health released a report. This report found no unusually high rates of cancer or adverse birth outcomes in the areas affected by PFCs. Finally, the natural resource damage (NRD) settlement ends the largest environmental lawsuit in Minnesota’s history. However, it remains to be seen how the case will affect other PFC-related lawsuits throughout the country.
Joseph Maternowski, an attorney at the Hessian & McKasy, PA law firm in Minneapolis, represents clients before state and federal environmental agencies and in federal and state court. He tracks developments in environmental law on his blog. Mr. Maternowski assists clients in minimizing liability on business and real estate transactions. As an experienced environmental practitioner Mr. Maternowski collaborates with business and real estate attorneys to assist their clients on a range of environmental matters. As a trusted legal adviser he also serves as outside environmental counsel. Furthermore, Mr. Maternowski has been recognized by his peers as a Best Lawyer for Environmental Law and Environmental Litigation in Minnesota. Finally, thanks to associate Joseph Reutiman for his assistance.