Federal court sanctions historic settlement in PFAS contamination litigation

February 9, 2024

In a landmark decision, a federal court has approved a settlement requiring DuPont to pay $1.185 billion to public water systems across the United States affected by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination.

This settlement, part of litigation overseen by the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, marks a critical step forward in addressing the widespread issue of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” in drinking water supplies.

Baron & Budd, representing numerous public water systems, announced the court’s approval.

The litigation consolidated before Judge Richard Gergel has reached a pivotal milestone with this approval, ensuring immediate financial relief to affected water systems.

Scott Summy, a shareholder at Baron & Budd and court-appointed co-lead and class counsel, played a significant role in shaping the settlement structure, aiming to provide a nationwide solution for public water systems.

Overwhelming support for the settlement

Following preliminary court approval in August 2023, about 14,000 public water systems were notified of the settlement, with the option to exclude themselves or object to its terms.

The court’s order highlighted the settlement’s broad support, with approximately 94% of these systems choosing to participate.

Judge Gergel noted that even those few systems with specific objections generally supported the settlement, finding their concerns lacked merit.

Public water systems that initially opted out have until March 1, 2024, to rejoin the settlement.

“Today marks an important step toward protecting the health and safety of all Americans,” stated Scott Summy, expressing gratitude towards the court and DuPont for their proactive approach.

The settlement funds are designated for water systems that have detected PFAS, covering testing costs for those yet to conduct tests and providing financial support for systems that discover PFAS contamination as a result of future testing.

Broader implications and ongoing litigation

Since the multidistrict litigation (MDL) was established in 2018, thousands of cases have been filed alleging that DuPont and other manufacturers sold products containing PFAS, despite knowing these compounds posed significant environmental and health risks.

The litigation encompasses claims from various plaintiffs, including states, airports, fire-training facilities, and private well owners.

An additional settlement, potentially amounting to $12.5 billion with 3M Company, is awaiting court approval.

It’s crucial to note that the settlements with DuPont and 3M do not affect the water providers’ claims against other defendants.

Litigation will continue against non-settling manufacturers, such as Tyco Fire Products, LP, and Chemguard, Inc.

FSJA Comment

This settlement represents a significant milestone in the ongoing effort to address the contamination of drinking water by PFAS chemicals.

The proactive settlement offers immediate financial relief and support for testing and mitigation efforts, reflecting an acknowledgment of the severity of PFAS contamination and the urgency of addressing it.

The extensive participation by public water systems underscores the widespread concern and the necessity for a comprehensive response to this environmental and public health challenge.

As litigation continues against other manufacturers, this settlement with DuPont sets a precedent for accountability and the importance of safeguarding water resources.

About PFAS

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals known for their persistence in the environment and in the human body, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

Used in a variety of industrial applications and consumer products, including aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) for extinguishing fuel fires, PFAS contamination has emerged as a significant environmental and health concern.

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