Some fear 3M water pollution settlement money won't go far enough

Joby Randrup installed a granular activated carbon filter in his basement.
Joby Randrup installed a granular activated carbon filter in his basement to keep his drinking and bathing water free of PFCs. With two children, he is especially vigilant.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

An $850 million settlement is aimed at helping east metro cities with new treatment plants and other projects reduce a chemical produced by 3M. But some say the agreement reached between the Maplewood-based company and the state of Minnesota may not go far enough to reduce the risk they say exists in their water supplies.

3M made perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, for use in nonstick coatings, Scotchguard and other products, in Cottage Grove for decades, and buried the waste in several east Twin Cities metro landfills. Those disposal sites were legal. But in 2004, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that PFCs had leached into the groundwater.

When Amy and Joby Randrup bought their home in Cottage Grove the following year, they were unaware of what the MPCA had found. But Randrup says after they learned, they paid a plumber $700 to install a whole-house water filtration system. It costs several hundred dollars a year to maintain.

Randrup says 3M's $850 million payout to mitigate the contamination may sound like a lot. But he fears the money won't go far enough.

"What's going to happen to our environment long term? Is the problem going to get worse? Are we going to get more long-term research that talks about the toxicity levels and what's going to happen to our bodies, let alone the water table?"

Randrup said the company with around $30 billion in annual revenue could pay more. His neighbor Jane Coy agrees.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

"What happens when the money runs out? Who's going to be on the hook for it then?" Coy said. "It's probably going to be the taxpayers. That's my concern."

Jane Coy has installed a granular activated carbon filter in her basement.
Jane Coy, who has lived in her house for 40 years, installed a granular activated carbon filter in her basement to keep drinking and bathing water free of PFC's. Changing the filter, which Coy does about every 18 months, costs $300.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Neither Coy nor Randrup has suffered health problems from PFCs. But even if they had, the 3M money cannot go to individuals because the lawsuit filed in 2010 was based on damage to natural resources.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said the state will set up a process for deciding how to distribute the funds. Even though she initially sought $5 billion, Swanson said the agreement announced Tuesday is a good deal for taxpayers.

Last year the Minnesota Department of Health set PFC advisory limits much lower than federal standards, immediately putting seven of Cottage Grove's dozen municipal wells out of commission. Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said the city built two temporary treatment facilities. He's hopeful 3M's money will cover those expenses and pay for permanent plants that can be upgraded if the health standards change.

"The only way to react to this is to create a treatment facility that will work for the future. And in this particular case, that's what we're going to do. So whether they find out 5 years, 20 years from now that the health base value needs to be lowered again, we don't have to worry about it because we have our treatment facility in place," Bailey said.

The new water treatment facilities could cost Cottage Grove around $50 million.

In Woodbury, public works director Klay Eckles is trying to determine the best solution. He said the city had to reduce reliance on five municipal wells after evidence of PFCs turned up.

Woodbury's options include digging new wells — at about $2 million each — and adding more filtration to Woodbury's existing water plants, Eckles said.

"We've planned contingencies into our system to reduce hardness or treat for other issues and this issue would certainly be one where we could add certain types of treatment like activated carbon or reverse osmosis or something like that."

In a statement, 3M Senior Vice President John Banovetz said the company does not believe there are public health issues related to PFCs, but the settlement is consistent with 3M's commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Attorney General Swanson says the state will receive the full $850 million within two weeks.

This story is part of The Water Main from MPR News, helping Minnesotans understand the value of water in our lives. Check out @thewatermain on Twitter.