US industrial conglomerate 3M said Thursday it will pay as much as $12.5 billion to settle numerous claims from US public water systems that accused the company of tainting their supplies.

Under the proposed settlement, which must be approved by a federal court, 3M would pay to remediate public water systems that have tested positive for so-called “forever chemicals,” polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to a 3M securities filing.

In exchange for payments of between $10.5 billion and $12.5 billion, plaintiffs in the class action litigation would agree to release 3M from claims over PFAS and any punitive damage awards, 3M said.

The pact also lets 3M terminate the agreement if many eligible class members opt out of the agreement, 3M said.

3M announced in December it would cease by the end of 2025 production of PFAS, which have been linked to increased risk of some cancers and are believed to impede vaccine response in children.

Known for the lengthy amount of time required before they break down and used in Teflon and other goods, PFAS are man-made chemicals produced since the 1940s and now widely present in soil and water as well as in humans, fish and other wildlife.

3M Chief Executive Mike Roman called the agreement “an important step forward for 3M” following the December announcement and recent investments in water filtration technology and other advances.

The settlement “sends a clear message that corporations like 3M must bear the responsibility for the aftermath of the chemicals they produce,” said Paul Napoli, a lead counsel in the case for plaintiffs.

“This historic settlement is the largest amount ever paid by a single company to resolve claims involving contaminated drinking water and provides compensation critical to protecting our nation’s drinking water supplies and upgrading our water treatment infrastructure to deal with this new threat.”


© Agence France-Presse