3M, Lake Elmo settle for $2.7M, land transfer in drinking water lawsuit

3M headquarters
This August 2011 photo shows 3M headquarters in Maplewood.
Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images 2011

Updated: 9:57 p.m. | Posted: 7:43 p.m.

The city of Lake Elmo and 3M have reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit over drinking water contamination.

Lake Elmo City Council unanimously approved the resolution at its meeting Tuesday night.

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The settlement stipulates that 3M will pay $2.7 million into the city's water account, which pays for maintaining its water system. The company will also transfer 180 acres of farmland to the city, which the settlement says is valued at $1.8 million.

Lake Elmo sued 3M in 2010, and again in 2016, over environmental damage from chemicals the company produced for decades.

Several city wells have had to be shut down due to contamination, and last year the state Department of Health warned people against eating any fish caught in the city's eponymous lake.

"The big thing is we're just glad to be done with this, to come to resolution," said city administrator Kristina Handt." We think that it's a fair deal for the city, and look forward to moving forward."

The chemicals found to be contaminating Lake Elmo's drinking water are part of a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, found in products like food wrappers, water and stain repellents, nonstick cookware to firefighting foam. They're sometimes known as "forever chemicals" because they don't break down, and persist in the environment and the human body.

Scientists are still studying the health effects of the chemicals, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says prolonged exposure to PFAS can increase the risk of cancer and harm child development.

The Maplewood-based 3M Co. manufactured PFAS at its plant in Cottage Grove for decades beginning in the 1950s.

The company legally disposed of its waste containing PFAS in landfills in the eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities metro area. The chemicals leached into the groundwater in nearby cities like Woodbury, Oakdale, Cottage Grove — and Lake Elmo.

In 2010, Minnesota sued 3M for natural resource damages. The high-profile case was settled last year when 3M agreed to pay $850 million to provide safe drinking water and clean up contamination in the east metro.

Lake Elmo Mayor Mike Pearson said the city sued separately to recover the costs of a well dug in 2007 that was unusable.

"The effect was clear and obvious for our town," he said. "But I'm glad we were finally able to come to some agreement."

Pearson said the 3M payment only covers part of the debt incurred on the water project. The city must still figure out what to do with the 180 acres of land, but he said it's possible that it will be sold to help pay off the debt.

The state of Minnesota has agreed to help Lake Elmo pay for a new well, with funds from the $850 million 3M settlement. Handt said the well is expected to be online by the end of next summer.