State probe: 3M mismanaged waste at Cottage Grove plant for over 2 decades

 3M in St. Paul, Minn.
3M headquarters in St. Paul, Minn. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Thursday slammed 3M for years of hazardous waste violations at the company’s facility in Cottage Grove.
Marlin Levison | Star Tribune via AP File

Updated: 2:32 p.m.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Thursday slammed 3M for years of hazardous waste violations at the company’s facility in Cottage Grove in St. Paul’s eastern suburbs. Regulators ordered the Maplewood-based company to pay $2.8 million for violations spanning more than two decades.

Among the findings from its two-year investigation, the agency said it found repeated years where 3M inaccurately identified hazardous waste sent to its incinerator as non-hazardous waste.

Investigators also cited 3M for storing 1,300 containers of hazardous waste in unapproved areas and for releases from compromised storage containers, and they reported finding six releases from compromised storage containers over a period of six months.

"This facility is unique” and the violations are “very significant,” Kirk Koudelka, an assistant MPCA comissioner, told reporters. “That verification of the waste streams before (they) went in the incinerator was a very important check on the overall system. And so they are significant violations."

The agency added that it does not appear the incineration of the hazardous materials related to this investigation exceeded limits and did not result in violation of 3M’s air permits. The MPCA also said that the company has taken some two dozen corrective actions, including increasing container storage inspections and storing hazardous waste in compliance with its permit.

The Cottage Grove facility had stored and incinerated hazardous waste from 3M operations in North America until it discontinued operation on Dec. 31, 2021, the MPCA said.

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In a statement, 3M said its was pleased to reach agreement with the MPCA and that takes its commitment to environmental and regulatory compliance seriously.

“These matters were primarily related to waste evaluation and labeling, handling, and storage. Emissions monitoring and testing data indicates that all materials were safely treated at 3M’s incinerator,” the company said, adding that “3M has already taken action to address these matters at MPCA’s direction. We will continue to be a positive presence in the Cottage Grove community.”

State Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said 3M had repeatedly disregarded laws designed to protect Minnesotans “from the dangers of hazardous waste generated at its Cottage Grove facility.”

The company “has not taken the rules, or its responsibility to uphold them, seriously for many years,” she said in a statement, adding that “the state needs to look at how it can better hold 3M accountable and explore toughening penalties on corporations that put Minnesotans' health at risk."