3M Sued by State for Pollution Clean-Up Costs

After months of failed negotiations, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit last week demanding that 3M pay the state for damage caused by its disposal of a certain type of chemical.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit last week against Maplewood-based 3M Company in attempt to force the company to pay the state for damages caused by its disposal of chemicals called perfluorochemicals (PFCs.)

3M used PFCs in the production of several consumer, commercial, and industrial products, including stain repellents like Scotchguard, fire retardants, paints, and chemical products. According to the suit, decades of disposal of PFC waste and wastewater in Minnesota has polluted ground and surface water and harmed the state's natural resources.

The company stopped producing PFCs in Minnesota in 2002 following negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the state, numerous studies have shown that PFCs pose serious risks to human health and the environment. For example, tests on animals have shown acute toxicity, risk of tumors of the liver and pancreas, adverse immune system effects, and adverse developmental effects.

In addition, the state said that a recent study of 3M employees showed a positive association between some types of PFC exposure and prostate cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes. Also, a recent study by the Minnesota Department of Health showed that residents of the eastern metropolitan area of the Twin Cities have elevated levels of PFCs in their blood compared to the U.S. population as a whole.

In 2007, 3M signed a consent order agreeing to clean up three sites-Woodbury, Oakdale, and Cottage Grove-where it had previously released PFCs that contaminated them.

Under the terms of the order, 3M also agreed to pay up to $5 million to cover part of the cost of evaluating the presence and effects of PFCs and up to $8 million to clean up the Washington County landfill-where the company disposed of waste containing PFCs in the early 1970s.

But in addition to 3M's clean-up efforts at the Woodbury, Oakdale, and Cottage Grove sites, and at the Washington County landfill, the state now wants the company to pay for damages to natural resources that were caused by the pollution.

The suit-which seeks unspecified damages-comes after months of negotiations between the two parties. In May, the state and 3M entered into a formal written agreement to try to negotiate an out-of-court resolution to the state's claims about the pollution damages.

That agreement expired December 30. Since no settlement was reached by that date, the state initiated the lawsuit.

3M spokesman Bill Nelson told Twin Cities Business on Monday afternoon that the company is puzzled by the suit because it is currently addressing the PFC levels at its former disposal sites with soil removal and groundwater treatments.

“3M has demonstrated its commitment to address PFCs in the environment,” Nelson said.

He also said that no one in the east metro is drinking water that contains PFCs above government guidelines. Nelson said that under the 2007 agreement, 3M is responsible for providing alternative drinking water if PFC levels are above government guidelines, which isn't the case.

Nelson wouldn't share details regarding the failed negotiations, but said that it was clear that both sides had vast differences of opinion regarding the case.

3M has 30 days to file a formal response to the suit. Nelson said the company is currently working on its response.