MPCA board signs off on chemical cleanup deal with 3M

Old landfill
The former 3M landfill in Woodbury.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

(AP) - The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's citizens' board unanimously approved on Tuesday an agreement under which 3M Co. will clean up long-buried chemicals that have contaminated groundwater in the east metropolitan area.

"This is a very well-thought-out agreement," said MPCA Board Member Donald Schliefelbein. "For the citizens of Minnesota, it is a plus."

3M will pay $8 million to reduce the leaking of PFCs from a landfill in Lake Elmo in Washington County. It isn't legally obliged to do so because the state has taken control of that landfill.

The company also agreed to pay $5 million for research into the effects of perflourochemicals, or PFCs, on the state's environment.

MPCA Deputy Commissioner Leo Raudys called the payments a "gift" because the Maplewood-based company wasn't obligated to make them.

Kathryn Reed, 3M vice president of environmental, health and safety operations, said that the agreement "provides certainty that the job will get done." The deal was negotiated during the past month.

One lawmaker criticized the agreement for not requiring studies of the health implications on people who have been drinking contaminated water.

"The proposal substantially shortchanges the Minnesotans who are directly affected and unfairly imposes costs on Minnesota taxpayers," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, in a letter to the MPCA citizens' board.

The chemicals were manufactured by 3M Co. from the 1940s until 2002. They were used in stain repellents, such as early versions of Scotchgard, and in fire retardants, pesticides and other household and industrial products.

The chemicals do not break down in nature, and 3M stopped manufacturing them after they were found in the tissues of animals and people worldwide.

3M legally disposed of industrial waste containing the chemicals at three east metro landfills, which are the suspected sources of the groundwater contamination.

The state Health Department reports that in animal studies, high concentrations of perfluorochemicals cause harmful changes in the liver and other organs. However, the department notes there have been few human studies.

According to the department's Web site, studies by 3M of its workers who were exposed to the chemicals during manufacturing showed no apparent damage to their health.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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