3M and PFC groundwater contamination in Minnesota

Did 3M pay a professor to influence science on harmful chemical?

3M in St. Paul
Attorney General Lori Swanson's office is alleging that a renowned toxicologist took at least $2 million in payments from 3M to help the company "command" science regarding a toxic chemical that was at the heart of a lawsuit brought by the state.
Marlin Levison | Star Tribune via AP file

A renowned toxicology professor took at least $2 million in payments from 3M to help the company "command" science regarding a toxic chemical that was at the heart of a lawsuit brought by the state of Minnesota, according to documents from Attorney General Lori Swanson's office.

John Giesy, an environmental toxicologist now working for the University of Saskatchewan, denied the allegations and accused Swanson's office of trying to harm his reputation, Canada's CBC News reported Sunday.

The state of Minnesota originally sued 3M in 2010, seeking $5 billion in damages over water contamination by perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, in several east Twin Cities suburbs. 3M and the state settled the suit last month for $850 million.

PFCs — which 3M made and used in products like Scotchgard, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam — are harmful to human health in certain concentrations. For years, 3M dumped the chemicals in suburban landfills. They eventually leached into the groundwater around Oakdale, Woodbury and Lake Elmo.

Public documents from Swanson's office accuse Giesy of influencing PFC research in many ways while he worked at Michigan State University, including:

• Reviewing "about one-half" of other scientists' studies on PFCs before publication.

• Suggesting to other scientists that he was independent while taking money from 3M and making sure "there was no paper trail to 3M."

• Sharing "confidential manuscripts of other scientists with 3M before they were published" and rejecting papers that were critical of 3M.

• Telling 3M he'd "buy favors" from scientists.

Giesy told the CBC that Swanson's office asked him to serve as an expert in its lawsuit, but he declined.

A spokesperson for Swanson's office told the CBC that Giesy was never asked to be an expert witness or testify on behalf of the state.

Giesy's position as a top toxicologist in his field would give him expert status on topics like PFC contamination.

His biography lists him as "a world leading eco-toxicologist with interests in many aspects of eco-toxicology, including both the fates and effects of potentially toxic compounds and elements, particularly in the area of ecological risk assessment." He's also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

The University of Saskatchewan, where Giesy works now, told the CBC there are "no apparent grounds" for a review of Giesy's conduct.

3M maintains that Swanson's office isn't correctly categorizing Giesy's work. The company has said repeatedly claimed there were not high enough concentrations of PFCs to hurt humans, and the settlement didn't require 3M to admit any wrongdoing.

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