- 3M to pay $55M toward Michigan cleanup
- Legal analysts see precedent for other PFAS users
3M Co.'s agreement to pay $55 million to clothier Wolverine World Wide Inc. to clean up PFAS in Michigan could serve as a model for other companies hoping to shift their liabilities for “forever chemicals,” lawyers say.
3M announced the agreement with Wolverine on Thursday to resolve a legal dispute between the two companies over who should pay to clean up pollution near a former Wolverine manufacturing site. 3M originally developed and produced per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the 1940s. The chemicals have been found in drinking water in towns across the country.
Wolverine used PFAS-laden Scotchgard to waterproof the clothing and shoes it produces, according to the company’s complaint against 3M, which changed the Scotchgard formula around 2002 over concerns about PFAS. Wolverine manufactures shoes for brands including Saucony, Hush Puppies, Sperry, and Keds.
The 3M-Wolverine agreement “could be precedent for what other companies could be doing around the country to address this really challenging problem,” said Ralph A. DeMeo, a Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC lawyer
DeMeo represents local governments and businesses facing PFAS-related lawsuits in Florida. He said other PFAS users could try to make similar arrangements with 3M.
Carpet manufacturers with the chemicals in their products are one example, said John A. Sheehan, a Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC attorney who advises potential plaintiffs on PFAS. Shaw Industries Inc. and Mohawk Industries Inc., for instance, are facing litigation in Georgia over alleged PFAS contamination from making flooring with Scotchgard.
Sheehan said plaintiffs could consider broadening their litigation strategy to target smaller companies that have used PFAS, knowing 3M could help foot the bill for a potential settlement.
“There’s a deep pocket now behind end users,” he said.
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3M and DuPont originally developed and produced PFAS in the 1940s. Hundreds of companies, including Wolverine and W. L. Gore & Associates Inc., have used the chemicals made with the particular PFAS that 3M, DuPont, and Chemours, a DuPont spinoff, have produced to make thousands of products such as semiconductors, sticky notes, and shoes.
The original PFAS manufacturers, in addition to Chemours and other companies using the chemicals, are the subject of several major PFAS-related lawsuits.
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