State alleges 3M chemicals caused cancer and infertility, alleges $5B in damage
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson says toxic chemicals dumped by 3M Co. in the East Metro suburb of Oakdale caused higher rates of cancer, infertility and low birthweight babies the first time anyone has estimated the potential human health impact of groundwater contamination in those communities since the problem came to light almost two decades ago.
Swanson included the conclusions of an expert witness in court briefs filed Friday, alleging that the health and environmental damages of the contamination total $5 billion and arguing that 3M should be liable for punitive damages.
The states lawsuit against 3M, first filed in 2010 but bogged down by procedural barriers until now, is scheduled for trial early next year.
The new filings in the suit detail allegations that 3M knew the local groundwater was contaminated with PFCs years before it stopped making them, that it suppressed the information over the objections of its own scientists, and withheld critical information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
3M, in pursuit of profit, deliberately disregarded the substantial risk of injury to the people and environment of Minnesota from its continued manufacture of PFCs and its improper disposal, the state said.
In its response, 3M said Minnesota has not sustained any injuries, let alone over $5 billion in alleged damages.
The lawsuit, one of half a dozen or more across the country against 3M and other manufacturers in connection with contaminated drinking water, is a misguided attempt by the State to force a responsible local corporate citizen to pay for a problem that does not exist, the company said in a court filing.
3M produced chemical compounds known as PFCs, one of the most widely used chemicals in the world, for 50 years at its manufacturing plant in Cottage Grove. The compounds were used in ScotchGuard, Teflon, degreasers, and many other commercial and industrial products.
The company dumped waste containing PFCs at four sites the southeast metro, contributing to one of the most severe and pervasive groundwater contamination problems in the state.
In 2008, 3M agreed to pay for new drinking water systems and bottled water for affected communities and homeowners, which has so far totaled about $13 million.
But since the lawsuit was filed, continued scientific research has found increasing risks related to PFCs, including cancer and developmental impacts on children. As as result, the EPA and the state have significantly tightened the exposure levels considered safe in drinking water.
In April, the EPA advised states and municipal drinking water systems across the country to reduce the amount of chemicals considered safe for drinking from 300 or 400 parts per trillion down to 70 a dramatic drop. And in May, innesota health officials advised cities and homeowners to adopt an even more stringent standard of 27 to 35 parts per trillion, depending on the type of PFC, in order to reduce the long-term risks for fetuses, breast-fed infants and young children.
Josephine Marcotty 612 673 7394