DuPont Co and Chemours Co announced Feb. 13 they have reached a tentative agreement to pay $670m (€631m) to settle thousands of lawsuits alleging injury from leaks of the fluoropolymer chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) into drinking water supplies from a DuPont factory in West Virginia, US.
DuPont said in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it reached a “settlement in principle” with plaintiffs to resolve 3,550 lawsuits that allege health problems ranging from cancer to high cholesterol and thyroid problems.
The settlement comes on the heels of a decision last month by a federal court jury in Ohio, which found DuPont liable for $10.5m (€9.9m) in punitive damages in one of the first cases to go to trial.
In that case, a man said he developed testicular cancer from exposure to PFOA after it leaked from the former DuPont facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia, into local water systems. That facility, the Washington Works plant, is now owned by Chemours.
DuPont and Chemours, a DuPont spinoff that includes the fluoroproducts business, each said they agreed to pay half of the $670.7m settlement.
Each company denied any wrongdoing and DuPont said it stopped using PFOA at the facility more than a decade ago.
The settlement still faces hurdles. DuPont told the SEC it can terminate the agreement “if more than a specified number of plaintiffs determine not to participate.”
The lawsuits, filed in state and federal courts in West Virginia and Ohio, had been consolidated in multi-district litigation in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ohio.
DuPont said the agreement is a “global settlement” covering all cases in the multi-district litigation, including those that have gone to jury trial. The settlement does not require court approval, DuPont said.
Forty more trials had been set to start in May.
A group of residents from the affected communities, Keep Your Promises, called it an “enormous step in the right direction” and said they were “cautiously optimistic” that impacted residents would approve settlement offers and that the deal would move ahead without delay.
“Folks who have already had their days in court, including Carla Bartlett, David Freeman, and Kenneth Vigneron, have had their awards bogged down in appeals,” the group said. “For DuPont and Chemours, who have shamelessly dragged this crisis out for decades, it is time to make good on this settlement offer without any further delay.”
DuPont and Chemours, both based in Wilmington, Delaware, also said each could pay an additional $25m (€24m) a year over five years if the settlement’s price tag rises above $670m.
DuPont said it had no commitment to fund PFOA costs beyond those five years, and said the indemnification obligations for Chemours would continue unchanged under their separation agreement.
“This agreement provides a sound resolution for area residents, Chemours, and the public,” said David Shelton, senior vice president and general counsel for Chemours.
“It settles all indemnification obligations between Chemours and DuPont for all of the approximately 3,500 claims in the Ohio multi-district litigation and allows us to move forward with a renewed focus on our customers, product innovation and application development,” he said.