3M to pay $850 million settlement to state

Money to be used to benefit water quality in the east metro.

An $850 million settlement was reached Feb. 20 between Minnesota and 3M Company regarding water in the east metro contaminated with perflurochemicals, often referred to as PFCs. 

The state sued 3M in 2010 for $5 billion, arguing it knew that the chemicals presented a potential health hazard and then dumped them anyway, allowing PFCs to seep into east metro groundwater. The state also argued that 3M then hid the damage it had done for decades.

As part of the settlement, 3M admitted no wrongdoing.

“We are proud of our record of environmental stewardship, and while we do not believe there is a PFC-related public health issue, 3M will work with the state on these important projects,” John Banovetz, senior vice president of 3M research and development and chief technology officer, said in a statement. “This settlement reflects our commitment to acting with integrity and conducting business in a sustainable way that is in the best interest of all who live and work in Minnesota.”

PFCs are a family of synthetic chemicals developed by the 3M Company. They have been used for decades to make products that resist heat, water, oil, grease and stains, such as carpets, clothing, fabrics, furniture, cookware and paper packaging for food.

They are also used in some firefighting products used at airfields, as an additive in cosmetics and in a number of industrial processes.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, traces of PFCs were found in the early 2000s in some groundwater in the east metro, as well as the bodies of animals and people drinking that water. The presence of these chemicals are related to landfills and dump sites in Oakdale, Lake Elmo, Woodbury and Cottage Grove, where 3M dumped the chemicals between 1951 and 1980. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, PFCs do not break down in the environment. 

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said in a statement that she appreciated 3M’s willingness to resolve the matter, which she and the commissioners of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources brought to court, adding that she believes the settlement brings to an end the largest environmental lawsuit in state history.


Unclear health impacts

Although Swanson’s jurisdiction is limited to damages caused to natural resources, the lawsuit hinged on the health impacts of these chemicals. 

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, risks associated with high exposure to the chemicals include low birth weights for babies, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations, some cancers, liver damage, interference with the immune system, thyroid issues and cholesterol changes.

Despite raising its advisory standards in 2017 for two types of PFCs, MDH released a statement Feb 7, only days before the suit was to go to trail, stating that in relation to PFC exposure in the east metro, it “did not find unusual rates of adverse birth outcomes or certain cancers.” 

The news reportedly postponed the trial a for week.

Swanson contended in a statement that after seven years of litigation, the state health department tried to blindside the state’s lawsuit on the eve of trial.  

“The swamp that was referred to in the last election is not limited to Washington,” she said. “We have our own problems in Minnesota with regulatory agencies that are captive to the industries that they are supposed to regulate.”


What the money will do

Prior to this lawsuit, 3M funded bottled water or filtration systems for residents whose groundwater wells were contaminated above agency advisory levels. The company also paid for instillation of a filtration system for Oakdale’s affected municipal wells and continues to pay for the operating costs of the system, but that isn’t true for every community affected by contaminated groundwater.

Following the Feb. 20 announcement of the settlement, a collective statement was released from a group of state legislators for the affected area, including representatives Kathy Lohmer, Kelly Fenton, Keith Franke and Tony Jurgens.

”[T]his settlement will help bring peace-of-mind to local residents,” the legislators said. “While we have yet to receive details on the settlement, we hope these settlement dollars will be used to pay for needed water quality improvements and ongoing maintenance in the affected communities, as well as reimbursements for costs communities have paid out of their own pockets associated with PFC contamination.”

Swanson said the money will be used to help fix the problems caused by the chemicals.

“Minnesota learned a lesson from the tobacco trial, where the settlement money never compensated the victims,” she said. “Instead, much of the money was sidetracked by the legislature to sell bonds to balance the budget. In this case, the money is being used to address some of the problems created by PFCs in our drinking water.”

According to 3M, the $850 million settlement, which it called the “3M Grant for Water Quality and Sustainability Fund,” will enable projects that support water sustainability in the east metro, such as continued delivery of water to residents and enhancing groundwater recharge to support sustainable growth. Other work funded by the settlement will include habitat and recreation improvements, such as fishing piers, trails and open space preservation.

In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton thanked Swanson for her hard work, while offering 3M his continued support.

“This settlement is an enormously important advance to protect the health of over 67,000 Minnesotans in our East Metro area, who deserve clean and safe drinking water,” Dayton said. He added, “I am also mindful that this settlement comes at the expense of a great Minnesota company, 3M, whose many positive contributions to our state and our citizens greatly exceed these unfortunate circumstances.”


– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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