PFAS: the “most insidious pollutant since PCB.”
Minnesota’s 3M Co. is accused of poisoning drinking water in one Minnesota town with cancer-causing industrial pollutants, according to a detailed Bloomberg report. Located on a 1,750-acre property in Cottage Grove along the Mississippi River, the decades-long manufacturing company is now the target of several lawsuits. The company is faulted for producing per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), active chemicals used for their water- and stain-repellant product, Scotchgard.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are linked to hormone disruption, low infant birth weights, immune system disruption and cancer. 3M not only uses PFAs in their Scotchgard product, which is sold nationwide, the company also sold PFAS to other companies to produce Teflon, fire-extinguisher foams, grease-resistant food papers and outdoor gear. In 2002, 3M stopped selling some PFAS, but now makes others according to a Bloomberg report.
Federal Agencies: PFAS are Hazardous
Recent scientific discoveries show that PFAS do not disintegrate in nature and are retained in human bodies for several years. Since they remain almost forever in the body, scientists have blamed PFAS – including the varieties PFOA and PFOS, for cancer, reduced immunity, decreased vaccine response, cell failures and other health complications. This finding prompted the Minnesota health department to set stricter limits for the chemical.
According to the Environmental Working Group, up to 110 million Americans have PFAS in their drinking water at unsafe levels. The Environmental Protection Agency disclosed earlier this year that PFAS may be declared hazardous substances in the light of their toxicity to human and environmental health. Almost 200 American scientists expressed worry over dangers posed by the chemicals, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published an 852-page report detailing the toxicity of the PFAS.
3M condemned the report as incomplete and biased, stating that the decades of research conducted by independent third parties show that PFAS and variants PFOS and PFOA do not constitute health risks to humans in any significant way. Company spokeswoman Fanny Haile-Selassie said the company continues to partner with scientists, federal regulators and community stakeholders to ensure their chemicals are safe for humans and the environment.
Former 3M Scientists and Consultants Call PFAS Cancer-Causing
Minnesota’s Attorney General Lori Swanson spent seven years building a case against 3M. Swanson studied 3M’s internal memos and local health data to claim that that elevated levels of PFAS in Cottage Grove are linked to higher rates of lower fertility, childhood leukemia and cancer in the area.
Swanson sued for $5 billion and the issue proceeded to trial. But 3M settled for $850 million without admitting to any wrongdoing. To prove that 3M was aware of the health dangers posed by its chemicals, Swanson posted on a state website internal documents showing the company had been engaged in massive cover-ups to keep regulators and local residents from knowing about its dangerous substances. According to a Bloomberg report, the records support Swanson’s claim of a cover-up.
In one example, Richard Purdy, a former 3M scientist, left the company in 1999 and wrote in his resignation letter that Scotchgard was the “most insidious pollutant since PCB.”
John Giesy, another independent scientist employed by 3M to handle public relations (formerly a zoologist with the University of Michigan but now a staff member of the University of Saskatchewan), wrote after scientifically reviewing Scotchgard that in particular PFOS “is one of the strongest cancer promoters I’ve ever seen.” Giesy added that while the reformulated Scotchguard doesn’t show the same cancer-promoting mechanisms in action, he urged 3M to only use the reformulation as a temporary solution.
Giesy said he warned 3M to switch to “something that would unwind in the environment,” as Bloomberg reported. The newer PFAS would accumulate as its predecessor had, he said, “and I couldn’t predict where that would lead.”