3M, DuPont sued

Outside of Bangor, Maine—the birthplace of acclaimed horror author Stephen King—more than 500 students, faculty, and staff arrive at Hermon High School each day.

But since November, they can no longer drink water. All fountains are taped with plastic bags. Water bottles are stacked nearby. A water filtration system is planned to be installed during the summer.

A fountain at Hermon High School in Maine has been closed after testing water above the state’s safety limit for PFAS chemicals.


“We’re very concerned,” Micah Grant, the district director of the Sheikh School in Hermon, told CNBC.

the reason? The school’s water was recently tested above the state’s safety limit for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often referred to as “forever chemicals.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even small exposure to PFAS in drinking water can pose serious health risks.

“We don’t fully understand why it’s in our water and it’s on the level we’re at,” Grant said.

Hermon High School is just one example of PFAS contamination currently affecting the community, according to Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey. The chemicals have also been identified in groundwater in towns and municipalities across the state including many military facilities and farms, according to Frey.

“There are farmers who have had to euthanize their livestock because of the chemical contamination,” Frey told CNBC.

Farmer Adam Nordel looks at the remnants of his once-thriving farm, now closed after the soil and crops proved toxic to the “forever chemicals”.


Maine recently joined a growing list of states – which now includes New Mexico, MarylandAnd Rhode Island – in He sued several chemical manufacturers Allegedly causing serious damage to the state’s population and natural resources.

“We claim that 3M and DuPont (and other manufacturers) produced these chemicals…they had the science that showed how dangerous they were, how toxic they were, and how they would last forever,” Frey said. “It is my responsibility to do everything I can to hold those companies that have benefited from this chemical to account.”

More than a dozen other states—including Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin—have filed lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers over the years.

Some have already reached the settlements. Minnesota, for example, Settlement with 3M for $850 millionand Delaware settled with DuPont and its subsidiaries for $50 milliondeduction of corporate liability for damage in those states.

Wall Street is now awaiting a groundbreaking trial in federal court, set to begin Monday, in which the city of Stewart, Fla., alleges that fire-fighting foam chemicals made by 3M contaminated its water supply.

What is PFAS?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS is a group of chemicals used to make coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.

The man-made material dates back to the 1940s and, over the decades, has been used in a wide variety of applications, including non-stick cookware, waterproof fabrics, carpeting, food and cosmetic packaging as well as fire fighting foams such as those found in At the center of the suit in Stewart.

But over time, fears began to grow. CDC officials say synthetic chemicals It does not degrade in the environment It is associated with serious health risks.

“We’ve seen associations with thyroid disease, certain types of cancer, kidney disease, liver dysfunction, and they’re concentrated in the liver…they’re called ‘forever chemicals’ because they stay in your body,” Scott Gottlieb told CNBC. “I think what the government needs to do is ramp up testing, and make sure we have a better picture of where these chemicals are getting into food sources[and]into water supplies.”

While PFAS testing is expected to become more widespread in the coming years, Gottlieb said there are steps consumers can take now to assess their exposure. He said residents who live near a military base or industrial plant known to make these chemicals should ask their local water utility if it has tested PFAS levels.

“There was a large analysis that was done several years ago of different water municipalities that found that about 1% of all municipal water sources contain some level of PFAS,” Gottlieb said.

More than 64 million people are affected by drinking water contaminated with PFAS – represented by a reading of 4 parts per trillion or more – according to the EPA’s March report.

Manufacturers are responding

Several manufacturers have announced plans to reduce or stop production of PFAS in the coming years.

“As the science and technology of PFAS have evolved, so have societal and organizational expectations and our expectations of ourselves, as well as how we operate PFAS,” 3M In a statement to CNBC, the spokesperson said the company plans to end production of the chemicals by 2025.

The company has also expressed its commitment to addressing PFAS pollution, investing in water treatment, and collaborating with communities.

dupontOn the other hand, it said it has “never manufactured” the harmful chemicals and believes the legal complaints are “unfounded”.

The company, formerly known as EI du Pont de Nemours, spun off its chemical business in 2015, to form Chemours. It then merged with Dow in 2017 to create DowDuPont, and later split into three separate entities in 2019: Corteva Agriscience, Dow, and the new DuPont.

All of these companies, along with others, are named as defendants in the Maine lawsuit. DuPont and Chemours are cut from the lead trial with the city of Stewart, Florida as the lead plaintiff.

On Friday, DuPont, Chemours and Corteva announced a $1.19 billion fund that will be used to resolve “PFAS-related drinking water claims.” However, an addendum to a joint statement declaring the fund does not include “personal injury claims due to alleged exposure to PFAS or claims by the state’s attorney general that alleged PFAS contamination has harmed the state’s natural resources.”

Chemours pledged in 2018 to reduce PFAS emissions at its manufacturing sites by at least 99% by 2030. A company spokesperson said in a statement that it has made significant progress implementing advanced technologies to reduce OFC emissions.

Dow has denied manufacturing PFAS and said it is not accused of causing any environmental pollution.

A Cortiva spokesperson told CNBC that it “does not comment on ongoing legal matters.”

Adversaries mount for 3M

RBC Capital Markets Managing Director Dean Dry sees the lawsuits as a particular financial risk for 3M.

“At this point, given the valuation and what we know about the PFAS lawsuit, we consider 3M to be uninvestable at this point,” Dray told CNBC.

3M’s global headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota, US, on Thursday, January 26, 2023.

Ben Brewer | bloomberg | Getty Images

3M’s Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs


3M’s attorney, Eric Rucker, told CNBC in March that the earplugs work when used according to their instructions and that any litigation estimates were “purely speculative.”

PFAS and politics

Last year, the Biden administration announced that $10 billion from a bipartisan infrastructure bill would be used to address PFAS pollution.

In the same month, the EPA filed for the first time New standards for drinking water that address the amount of PFAS allowed to be consumed.

The industry is waiting for word on whether the EPA will move forward with designating PFAS compounds as hazardous chemicals, which experts say could open the door to more litigation and prompt water utilities to make necessary upgrades to their filtration systems.

While the agency has publicly acknowledged its intention to do so, experts, including Capstone energy analyst Gianna Kinsman, say the official appointment could come by the end of this year.

Kinsman added that the 2024 presidential election could also affect the schedule: “I think it’s possible that if a Republican takes office, we might see a slowdown in PFAS regulation, whereas if Biden wins a second term, I think his PFAS organizing agenda will be equal. It’s more ambitious, and you’re likely to approach PFAS through larger categories rather than individually.”

RBC’s Dray added that there is a national security interest in extending the use of PFAS because there are no alternative options on the market.

“(It would take) a decade to develop another molecule and then do all the testing,” he said.

Meanwhile, scientists and industry experts are competing in an arms race to develop a safer alternative to PFAS. Others are looking at technologies that use electricity and heat to break down synthetic chemicals as well as treatment options for exposed areas.

popular work

About 30 miles from Hermon High School, in the rural farming town of Unity, Maine, are the remains of the once thriving Songbird Farm.

Nine years ago, Adam Nordel—now an advocate for the nonprofit Defending Our Health—and his wife, Joanna Davis, came to this property to grow healthy, fresh produce to sell to their community.

At the time, Songbird was thriving and lush, and over the years the couple grew a mix of grains and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe.

But that all changed two years ago when Nordell and Davis had their soil tested after a customer called about a local news report in which she had seen details of a farm contaminated with PFAS.

When the test results came back, their worst fears came true.

“We knew our Earth was heavily contaminated with chemicals forever,” Nordel said. “As soon as we knew, we closed.”

The family has since learned that the land was infested with municipal sewage treatment sludge in the early 1990s. Nordel said at the time it was being marketed to farmers as a free or cheap source of fertilization.

“Farmers were told to fertilize their crops. Unfortunately, this wastewater is loaded with all sorts of industrial chemicals that seep from consumer products,” he said.

The mission of the nonprofit he works for now is to reduce people’s exposure to toxic chemicals, raise awareness among farmers across the country and hold chemical manufacturers to account..

“They need to step up and pay for the impact they’ve had on the world,” Nordel said.


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