Fort Worth rejects settlement payouts for cancer-causing chemicals in water supply

dfwnewsa | November 28, 2023 | 1 | Dallas News , Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Fort Worth rejects settlement payouts for cancer-causing chemicals in water supply

Following a Nov. 28 City Council vote, Fort Worth will not participate in two proposed class action settlement agreements with companies that released “forever chemicals” into public water systems across the U.S.

The resolution authorizes the city to file its own lawsuits against manufacturers of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS, which have been used in consumer products since the 1950s. Most Americans have been exposed to PFAS through drinking water, food packaging, stain-resistant fabrics and fire extinguishing foam, among other consumer products, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Because PFAS chemicals accumulate in the environment and people’s bodies rather than break down, they are often called “forever chemicals.” Exposure to high levels of PFAS has been linked to increased risk of cancers, developmental delays in children, decreased fertility and reduced ability to fight infections.

The proposed settlement agreements were the result of thousands of lawsuits against major PFAS manufacturers 3M and DuPont. 3M’s agreement establishes a $10.3 billion fund, while DuPont’s settlement will create a $1.19 billion fund. As a public water system eligible to receive a payout, Fort Worth had until Dec. 4 to opt out of the DuPont settlement and Dec. 11 to opt out of the 3M settlement.

City staff anticipate that the settlement payout would be too low to cover the cost of removing PFAS from the water supply, city attorney Leann Guzman said in a statement. The city is also concerned that the settlement terms, which would release 3M and DuPont from all claims related to PFAS chemicals, are “too broad and, therefore, too limiting,” Guzman said.

Fort Worth is not the only city opposed to the settlement agreement. Dallas was among the cities and states that filed an objection to the terms this month, calling the proposed funds “grossly inadequate.”

Over the past six months, Fort Worth has hired four outside law firms to represent the city on claims related to firefighting foam and other products that contain PFAS. If Fort Worth files suit, it will join the ranks of a growing number of U.S. cities and states pursuing funds from chemical manufacturers.

EPA’s rules will require ‘expensive’ removal of PFAS

In March, the EPA proposed rules requiring public water systems to consistently test for PFAS chemicals and install filters to remove PFAS from their water supply by the end of 2026. The agency has allocated $2 billion to rural and disadvantaged communities for PFAS treatment and expects to make another $10 billion available to address water contaminants across the U.S.

Chris Harder, Fort Worth’s water director, previously called the federal funding a “drop in the bucket” compared to the expense of fully removing PFAS from the country’s water systems.

“If you are having thousands of utilities doing treatment projects, those are not going to be just $2 billion but significantly, significantly more expensive than that,” Harder told the Report in May. “Without any other funding mechanism, those costs get transferred to the ratepayer.”

Over the past year, Fort Worth has conducted testing for PFAS chemicals for the first time since 2014. Federal rules require the city to submit four rounds of treated water samples from each of Fort Worth’s water treatment plants to a third-party lab, which tests for 29 different PFAS chemicals and lithium.

The results, published on the city’s website, have detected seven PFAS chemicals in Fort Worth’s water system. The average amount of two PFAS chemicals – PFOS and PFOA – found in Fort Worth’s lab samples meet the EPA’s proposed standards, which would limit those chemicals to 4 parts per trillion. While not yet in effect, the EPA’s rules are expected to be finalized by the end of 2023.

Outside of the mandated testing, Fort Worth began its own monthly testing in July and plans to monitor wastewater for the chemicals.

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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