In late February, Minnesota manufacturing giant 3M Co. reached an $850 million settlement with the Minnesota Attorney General’s office over dumping of toxic perfluorochemicals, PFCs, that leached into the groundwater of Washington County. The settlement ends a $5 billion lawsuit between 3M and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Attorney General’s office.
3M manufactured these chemicals for use in their popular Scotchguard stain repellant as well as non-stick cookware and fire extinguishers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PFCs do not break down easily and can accumulate in people’s bodies. In large quantities these chemicals can disrupt the immune system and can cause birth defects, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption.
According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the company dumped chemicals in dumpsites throughout the 1970s. Those chemicals eventually found their way into the ground water. In 2004, they were discovered in the drinking water of 67,000 people in Lake Elmo, Oakdale, Woodbury and Cottage Grove.
The company denies that the PFCs have created a health issue, but has spent $100 million to remediate the groundwater situation, including adding filters to the city water systems and private homes over the years.
How the settlement money will be used is still being determined. One option is to investigate alternative water sources. Water treatment projects are also being reviewed.
New Information About What 3M Knew
An article in The Intercept reports that 3M discovered that PFCs were toxic in the 1970s. In 1976 the company discovered that worker’s in their Cottage Grove PFOA plant had complex fluorine molecules in their bloodstreams that were 1,000 times higher than normal.
In 1978 an internal 3M report concluded that all PFOA and PFOs should be regarded as toxic. The company stopped manufacturing these products, but continued to sell the compound to companies, such as Dupont, which made the well-known Teflon coating.
The lawsuit in Minnesota may be over, but 3M is still facing legal challenges.
3M Facing Lawsuit In The South Over PFCs
In Alabama, 3M is being sued by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority over PFC chemicals that leached into the Tennessee River, which is pumped as a source for drinking water. The chemicals, which were used by Daikin at their Decatur facilities, were discovered two years ago and a health advisory was issued to residents to avoid drinking the water.
The water authority settled with Daikin last month for $4 million. The lawsuit against 3M is ongoing.