Read the full article by Isabella Breda and Manuel Villa (The Seattle Times)

“Public water systems across the U.S. — including those in Washington — that have found ‘forever chemicals’ in their drinking water are eligible for a piece of roughly $1.2 billion as part of a court settlement with chemical and manufacturing giants DuPont, Chemours and Corteva.

The settlement was preliminarily approved by a federal judge in South Carolina on Tuesday. Attorneys who have negotiated the settlement will soon begin notifying any public water systems that either have so far detected any level of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS; serve more than 3,300 people; or are required by state or federal law to test for PFAS.

The settlement applies to all water systems that meet these specifications, whether or not they are involved in the case.

In Washington, the chemicals, also known as ‘forever chemicals’ because of their pervasiveness, have been found in more than 260 water sources so far as new statewide drinking-water testing requirements roll out.

PFAS have been found in the breast milk of Puget Sound-area mothers and have been linked to several health problems, including liver damage and forms of cancer, as the chemicals emerge as one of the most widespread sources of pollution on the planet.

The settlement stipulates that water systems that don’t opt out of the agreement will surrender the rights to any future claims regarding PFAS in drinking water against the companies. Water systems must opt out by Dec. 4. The water utilities have until Nov. 4 to object to the terms of the settlement.

The number of utilities that could have rights to the funds will shrink as more choose to opt out of the settlement.

The DuPont settlement is fixed at about $1.2 billion, which means that the more systems that decide to take part in it, the less each one will receive. The companies have the option to terminate the agreement if not enough systems participate. Another proposed settlement with 3M, another PFAS manufacturer, can go up to $12.5 billion, depending on participation.

‘Under the proposed settlement agreement, water providers will have a relatively short period of time in which to make decisions about whether to opt out and or object to the settlement,’ said environmental attorney Jeff Kray. ‘They need to carefully evaluate the proposed settlement terms and determine what is in each water system’s best legal and financial interest.’

If the judge offers final approval of the DuPont settlement in December, the money may be distributed to water providers beginning in 2024.

Hundreds of communities across the country, including at least five water systems in Washington state, have sued DuPont, 3M and other PFAS manufacturers. They have sought to recover billions of dollars to clean up and monitor polluted sites.

In Washington, hundreds of public drinking-water sources from the San Juan Islands to south Puget Sound and east to Yakima have tested for levels of PFAS above state action levels.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency anticipates compliance with its new health advisory rule, further regulating exposure to PFAS in drinking water, could cost public water systems $772 million per year. Some water systems in Washington state, like Lakewood near Olympia and Airway Heights near Spokane, have filed claims seeking $356 million and $46 million, respectively.

The court will hold a final hearing on Dec. 14 to hear objections to the settlement, certify eligible participants and finalize the agreement.”