The state of Minnesota has filed suit against 3M Co., alleging that the company contaminated the state’s waters for decades with chemicals used in some of its best-known products. The lawsuit, filed by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, seeks unspecified damages from 3M. According to the Complaint, filed in state court, St. Paul-based 3M polluted public and private wells in the state for years by pumping perfluorochemicals (PFCs) it uses to make fire retardants, paints, stain repellents and other products into waters flowing into the Mississippi River and also by burying the chemicals underground.
3M manufactured PFCs in the state from the 1950s through 2002. The company stopped making them following negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which says the chemicals pose serious risks to human health and the environment. In 2007, the company signed a consent decree with Minnesota’s pollution control agency and agreed to remediate a number of sites in Minnesota.
For some time, 3M has been engaged in settlement talks with the state to pay damages for the contamination. In 2007, the company agreed to temporarily toll the statute of limitations on any damage claims while negotiations continued. That agreement expired on December 30th without any progress on a final settlement. According to the Attorney General, 3M set aside $117 million in reserves for potential environmental liability relating to its disposal and discharge of PFCs. In comparison, General Electric Co. has paid out an estimated $500 million so far to dredge the Hudson River in New York to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), from the riverbed.
The EPA ordered GE in December to dredge deeper into the Hudson River as part of the next phase of an effort to remove the cancer-causing chemicals dumped into the river over decades. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, some PFCs released by 3M have been linked to cancer in experiments with laboratory animals. In a 2010 report, the health department noted that a recent study of 3M employees by the company suggested a positive association between exposure to some PFCs and prostate cancer, cerebrovascular disease and diabetes.
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