Minnesota Attorney General's Office
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
M - F 8 am - 5 pm
December 30, 2010
ATTORNEY GENERAL SWANSON FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST 3M
Suit Seeks To Make Company Pay For Damages It Caused To The State’s Natural Resources By Its Disposal Of Chemicals Used To Make Products Like Scotchguard™
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson today filed a lawsuit against 3M Company to make it pay the State for damage it caused to Minnesota’s ground and surface water and natural resources by its decades-long disposal of chemicals called perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, which the company used to make stain repellents like Scotchguard™, fire retardants, paints, and chemical products.
“3M polluted and damaged our waters with these chemicals. The lawsuit asks the company to make right the problems caused by its contamination of our waters,” said Attorney General Swanson.
For over 50 years, 3M disposed of PFC waste and wastewater in Minnesota, polluting Minnesota ground and surface water and injuring the natural resources of the State. For decades, 3M both buried the chemicals below ground, allowing them to seep into the groundwater, and piped the chemicals into surface water flowing into the Mississippi River. 3M’s PFCs have contaminated both municipal and private drinking wells in the eastern metropolitan area of the Twin Cities.
3M reported in its 2009 Annual Report that it reserved $117 million for potential environmental liability relating to its disposal and discharge of PFCs, as follows: “As of December 31, 2009, the Company had recorded liabilities of $117 million for estimated other environmental liabilities based upon an evaluation of currently available facts for addressing trace amounts of perfluorinated compounds in drinking water sources in the City of Oakdale and Lake Elmo, Minnesota, as well as presence in the soil and groundwater at the Company’s manufacturing facilities in Decatur, Alabama and Cottage Grove, Minnesota, and at two former disposal sites in Minnesota.”
In 2007, the Minnesota Department of Health placed limits on the installation and operation of wells in a 12 mile square area of Washington County as a result of the groundwater contamination caused by 3M’s disposal of PFCs. PFCs have been found in four major drinking water aquifers that lie below the sites where 3M disposed of PFCs. These aquifers are the sole source of drinking water for approximately 125,000 residents of the Twin Cities eastern metropolitan area, including the residents of Lake Elmo, Oakdale, Cottage Grove, and Woodbury. Over 100 square miles of groundwater have been contaminated by 3M’s disposal of PFCs, as have large portions of the Mississippi River. In 2008 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency listed certain areas of the Mississippi River and Lake Elmo as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act as a result of these problems, and the Minnesota Department of Health has advised citizens to limit their fish consumption from these waters.
A 2005 report by the US. Department of Health and Human Services found that “human exposure to [PFCs] leads to the buildup of these chemicals in the body.” 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. A recent study of 3M employees showed a positive association between some types of PFC exposure and prostate cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes. 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.
The lawsuit alleges that, among other things, 3M polluted Minnesota ground and surface water and injured the drinking water supplies and natural resources of the State by its disposal of these chemicals. It seeks damages under the Minnesota Environmental Response and Liability Act (“MERLA”), the Minnesota Water Pollution Control Act (“MWCPA”), and the common law. Both MERLA and the MWCPA provide that claims shall be brought by the Attorney General in the name of the State of Minnesota.
In May, 2010 the State and 3M entered into a formal written agreement to try to negotiate an out-of-court resolution of the State’s claims. The agreement expired today—December 30, 2010—and provided that the State would not file a lawsuit before December 30 while negotiations proceeded. Unfortunately, no settlement was reached after six months of negotiations; hence, the State filed its lawsuit today. These negotiations were previously reported publicly and by 3M in its Form 10-Q for the period ending September 30, 2010.
3M used PFCs in the production of a variety of consumer, commercial, and industrial products, including stain repellents like Scotchguard™, fire retardants, paints, and chemical products. 3M stopped producing some PFCs in Minnesota in 2002, following negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). The EPA said at the time it announced that 3M would stop making some PFCs: “3M data supplied to EPA indicated that these chemicals are very persistent in the environment, have a strong tendency to accumulate in human and animal tissues and could potentially pose a risk to human health and the environment over the long term.” PFCs are a class of chemicals—not natural to the environment—in which fluorine atoms replace the hydrogen atoms that are normally attached to the carbon “backbone” of hydrocarbon molecules. The chemical structure of PFCs makes them resistant to breakdown in the environment.
Chronology of regulatory actions against 3M regarding PFCs. 3M’s financial statements describe some of the regulatory actions against the company as it relates to PFCs. These actions include:
May 2000 EPA negotiates with 3M to cease production of PFCs in U.S.
May 2007 3M enters into Consent Decree with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to remediate certain disposal sites in Minnesota
Aug 2008 3M enters into remedial agreement with Alabama Department of Environmental Management to remediate certain disposal sites in Alabama