Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday that the state of Michigan intends to sue the Minnesota-based manufacturer of chemicals linked to contaminated water near military bases and industrial sites, citing "significant costs" that will only rise in the future.
Snyder, whose administration has been scrambling to combat potential health risks in drinking water that stem from per-and polyfluorinated substances, or PFAS, wrote a letter to state Attorney General Bill Schuette requesting that he immediately file a lawsuit against 3M Co and "all other responsible parties."
The company began manufacturing the chemicals in the 1950s and stopped production in 2002. They were used in Scotchgard, fire retardants, nonstick cookware and other products.
Snyder said while the human health impacts of PFAS exposure are still being studied, there is "credible research" showing that the compounds can affect the development of infants and young children, disrupt hormonal functions and immune systems, and boost the risk of cancer. The substances have been detected at levels requiring remediation at 33 sites across Michigan, he said, leading the state to incur "significant costs."
"It is generally understood 3M was aware of the nature of its products and the threats they posed to public health," the Republican governor wrote. "Despite this knowledge 3M continued to manufacture, market, and sell its products containing the contaminant without disclosing to its customers and regulatory agencies the threat they posed to the general public."
In a statement, 3M spokeswoman Donna Fleming Runyon said the company "cares deeply about the safety and health of Michigan's communities. 3M believes that it acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS, and will vigorously defend its environmental stewardship."
A Schuette spokeswoman said the governor's letter was being reviewed.
Snyder's move was welcomed by an environmental group, Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and Wolverine World Wide, a Michigan-based footwear company facing lawsuits over the past disposal of PFAS contaminants near Grand Rapids. Of nearly 1,600 private residential wells tested in an area north of the city, more 150 have levels of PFAS above the lifetime federal advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.
"The seriousness of PFAS contamination cannot be overstated," said Kildee, whose district includes the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, where contamination is a concern.
In February, 3M agreed to pay the state of Minnesota $850 million to settle a major case alleging the manufacturer damaged natural resources and contaminated groundwater by disposing of the chemicals over decades. In November, the Michigan Legislature enacted $23 million in emergency spending to address PFAS contamination.