Swanson turns to suing 3M

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 3, 2011, 12:53pm


ST. PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline) - Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson last week filed a lawsuit against 3M Company for damages it allegedly caused to the state's ground and surface water and natural resources.

In a statement released on Thursday, Swanson alleged the disposal of chemicals called perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, which she says the company used to make stain repellents like Scotchguardâ„¢, 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," Swanson said.

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.

For more than 50 years, the attorney general said, 3M disposed of PFC waste and wastewater in the state.

For decades, she said, the company buried the chemicals below ground, allowing them to seep into the groundwater, and piped the chemicals into surface water flowing into the Mississippi River.

The Attorney General's Office points to a 2009 annual report by 3M, in which it said it reserved millions for potential environmental liability relating to its disposal and discharge of PFCs.

According to the report, "As of Dec. 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."

A 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that "human exposure to (PFCs) leads to the buildup of these chemicals in the body."

Numerous studies, the Attorney General's Office points out, 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, it said.

A recent study of 3M employees, Swanson's office said, showed a positive association between some types of PFC exposure and prostate cancer, cerebrovascular disease and diabetes.

In May, the State and 3M entered into a formal written agreement to try to negotiate an out-of-court resolution of the State's claims. That agreement expired Dec. 30 and provided that the State would not file a lawsuit before that date while negotiations proceeded. However, no settlement was reached after six months of negotiations; hence, the State filed its most recent lawsuit.

Swanson's suit seeks damages under the Minnesota Environmental Response and Liability Act, the Minnesota Water Pollution Control Act, and the common law. Both MERLA and MWPCA provide that claims shall be brought by the attorney general in the name of the State of Minnesota.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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Organizations in this Story

State of Minnesota
110 Galewski Drive
St Paul, MN 55155

3M Center
Maplewood, MN 55119

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