A U.S. judge on Monday granted a delay of a trial in a lawsuit brought by a Florida city against industrial conglomerate 3M Co. over water contamination from toxic "forever chemicals," after the parties said they were close to a settlement.
3M shares were down about 3% in afternoon trade.
"The parties informed the Court last evening that they have reached a stage in those discussions where they believe a final binding agreement is achievable in the near future," U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston, South Carolina, said in the order.
The judge asked for weekly updates, and said he would reschedule the trial if an agreement is not reached within 21 days.
Set to have been a test case, the lawsuit is one of the more than 4,000 filed against 3M and other chemical companies by U.S. municipalities, state governments and individuals that have been consolidated in the federal court in South Carolina.
The company was scheduled to face trial in the South Carolina federal court on Monday in a lawsuit brought by Stuart, Florida, accusing it of manufacturing PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, despite knowing for decades that the chemicals can cause cancer and other ailments.
"We are hopeful that this delay will lead to a meaningful settlement in the near term," said Paul Napoli, a partner at law firm Napoli Shkolnik, who is representing the plaintiffs.
3M spokesperson Sean Lynch said in a statement the parties are "making material and significant progress toward a resolution of this matter."
The city of Stuart claimed in its 2018 lawsuit that the company made or sold firefighting foams containing PFAS that polluted local soil and groundwater, and sought more than $100 million for filtration and remediation.
3M announced in December that it would stop producing PFAS by 2025. It has said in court documents that PFAS have not been linked with health problems at the levels being discovered in drinking water.
Bloomberg News reported last Friday that 3M had struck a tentative $10 billion deal with U.S. cities and towns to resolve the PFAS water pollution lawsuits it is facing. Reuters could not immediately confirm that report.
Dubbed "forever chemicals" as they do not easily break down in the human body or environment, PFAS are used in a wide range of products from non-stick cookware to cosmetics and have been linked to cancer, hormonal dysfunction and environmental damage.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has called PFAS an "urgent public health and environmental issue."
The agency has taken several steps in recent years to tighten regulations for the chemicals, and in March announced the first-ever national drinking water standards for six of the chemicals.
Three major chemicals companies – Chemours Co., DuPont de Nemours Inc and Corteva Inc – said on Friday that they had reached an agreement in principle for $1.19 billion to settle claims that they contaminated U.S. public water systems with PFAS.
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