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Former 3M scientist talks PFAS contamination, decadeslong corporate cover-up

3M's corporate headquarters in Maplewood. Former 3M scientist Kris Hansen was among the first to discover how widespread PFAS contamination in humans was in the late 1990s.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Updated: 1:35 p.m.

Eastern Twin Cities suburbs including Oakdale, Woodbury and Hastings are working to remove toxic PFAS from their drinking water supplies.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are human-made chemicals manufactured since the 1940s. They’re found in a variety of consumer products, including firefighting foam, carpet, stain-resistant clothing and cosmetics.

Often described as forever chemicals, they don’t break down in the environment, and some are linked to health problems including kidney and liver problems and cancer. They were developed then dumped by nearby corporate giant 3M over several decades.

Former 3M scientist Kris Hansen was among the first to discover how widespread PFAS contamination in humans was in the late 1990s — and the company continually disputed her results, ultimately sidelining her from PFAS research altogether, she said.

Extensive reporting from ProPublica dug into the decadeslong cover-up. Now an environmental consultant, Hansen joined MPR News Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer to tell her story and share more about her research in light of the article.

A spokesperson for 3M responded to the story and our interview, saying in a statement that the company is proactively managing PFAS.

“As the science and technology of PFAS, societal and regulatory expectations, and our expectations of ourselves have evolved, so has how we manage PFAS,” the statement says.

“We announced in 2000 that we would phase out of manufacturing of PFOA and PFOS and have done so worldwide. After our decision to phase out these compounds and applications, others in the industry eventually followed suit as to certain PFAS. We are making good progress on our announcement in 2022 that we would exit all PFAS manufacturing.”

The company has also invested in water treatment technologies, committing $1 billion to deploy them at their chemical manufacturing operations and supporting efforts to remediate PFAS in public water supplies. A 2023 settlement agreement could result in more of that work.

Learn about 3M’s products that contain PFAS, reformulations and other updates here.

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