By Peter Chawaga
As public systems grapple with the costs of addressing one of the world’s most prevalent drinking water contaminants, the legal battle over a recent multibillion-dollar settlement proposal from one of the groups responsible for that contamination underscores just how challenging the future might be for treatment operations.
“Twenty-two attorneys general urged a federal court … to reject a proposed $10.3 billion settlement over contamination of U.S. public drinking water systems with potentially dangerous chemicals, saying it lets manufacturer 3M Co. off too easily,” the Associated Press reported. “The deal announced in June doesn’t give individual water suppliers enough time to determine how much money they would get and whether it would cover their costs of removing the compounds known collectively as PFAS, said the officials.”
As regulators are grappling with PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” because of their long-lasting impact on the environment, they have increasingly focused on holding the industrial operations that spread these chemicals financially accountable. But even as the pressure has grown on manufacturers like 3M, treatment operations have been outspoken about the challenges they would face in complying with stricter drinking water limits for PFAS.
In rejecting such a large potential payout from 3M, these attorneys general have suggested a startling price tag to address likely regulations around PFAS levels in public drinking water.
“Although the company put its value at $10.3 billion, an attorney for the water providers said it could reach as high as $12.5 billion, depending on how many detect PFAS during testing the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered over the next three years,” according to AP. “EPA in March proposed strict limits on two common types, PFOA and PFOS, and said it wanted to regulate four others.”
For its part, the manufacturer has stated that its proposed settlement would properly account for the challenges around future regulations.
“[The] agreement supports PFAS remediation funding to public water systems that detect any type of PFAS, at any level, now or in the future,” a 3M spokesperson wrote in response to the attorneys’ motion, per The Hill. “This agreement will benefit U.S.-based public water systems nationwide that provide drinking water to a vast majority of Americans.”
With treatment operations caught between the need to better regulate PFAS contamination and the outstanding costs of doing so, it’s likely that more high-profile legal disputes like this one are ahead. In the meantime, consumers are increasingly worried about the potential health effects.
To read more about how public treatment operations comply with drinking water regulations, visit Water Online’s Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.