3M to Pay Minnesota $850M in Surprise Settlement Over Chemical Disposal

On Tuesday, a trial over Minnesota's $5 billion lawsuit against manufacturer 3M Company—the biggest environmental lawsuit in state history—was set to begin with jury selection.

But on that very same day, the Maplewood-based manufacturer agreed to an $850 million settlement, finally putting an end to eight years of litigation over the water pollution case.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson back in 2010, claiming 3M contaminated the state's water supply from 1950 until the early 2000s by dumping millions of pounds of waste into the ground and the Mississippi River from the production of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, that the company used in its lines of nonstick products such as Scotchgard.

The manufacturing conglomerate "knew or should have known" the toxic chemicals posed a risk to drinking water, harmed wildlife and human health long before stopping its production in 2002, officials said.

The Minnesota Department of Health says higher levels of PFCs in a person's body are associated with higher cholesterol, changes to liver function, reduced immune response, thyroid disease, and kidney and testicular cancer.

Under the settlement, 3M will provide an $850 million grant aimed at improving "water quality and sustainability."

The money will be paid for projects that safeguard drinking water in the East Metro.

"This money is dedicated to fixing the problem," Swanson said at a news conference in Minneapolis. "This was hard-fought litigation."

The company denies any wrong-doing and insists it disposed the chemicals legally at the time. The settlement does not require an admission of liability.

"We are proud of our record of environmental stewardship, and while we do not believe there is a PFC-related public health issue, 3M will work with the state on these important projects," John Banovetz, 3M's chief technology officer, said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.

As Minnesota Public Radio reported, many Minnesotans and folks around the U.S. were eagerly awaiting the trial to begin, as it could have "set a precedent as 3M faces at least two dozen lawsuits related to PFCs around the country."

News of the agreement was celebrated by Erin Brockovich, famed environmental activist and fighter for clean water.

"This pathetic polluter knew the evidence against them was damning ... and they settled!" she wrote on Facebook. "There isn't enough money in the world to compensate for the lives they have damaged ... or the costs consumers face nationwide to clean up their pollution. 3M fought for almost a decade ... spending hundreds of millions on lawyers to dodge their way around the law ... but today became their day of reckoning!"

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