Fluoride Action Network

Minnesota: 3M faces lawsuit over chemical

Source: Star Tribune (Minnesota) | October 13th, 2004 | By David Shaffer
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

Two neighbors of a 3M Co. plant in Cottage Grove have sued the company, alleging that they and their properties have been harmed by a chemical once made there.

The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is used to make Teflon and durable coatings for fabrics and industrial products. It and another stain-resistant chemical once made by 3M have been found widely in the environment, triggering lawsuits in at least two other states.

The latest lawsuit, filed last week in Washington County District Court, asserts that the two 3M chemicals contaminated the properties of plaintiffs Felicia Palmer and Sesario Briseno and possibly other neighbors. Their attorneys are seeking to have it certified as a class-action case.

3M said the suit has no merit and misrepresents extensive scientific research and many other facts. “We are not aware of any evidence that our production or use of these compounds has caused any problems with the soil or water on any properties in the vicinity of our facilities,” spokesman Rick Renner said.

The company stopped manufacturing PFOA at the Cottage Grove plant four years ago. It also ceased making another chemical used in stain-resistant coatings – perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – and removed it from its Scotchgard products. PFOS was made at a 3M plant in Decatur, Ala.

The Minnesota Health Department, which tested wells of four homes near the Cottage Grove plant last year, did not detect any PFOA in them, said Jim Kelly, a health assessor for the department.

Kelly said that groundwater on 3M’s property and wells near a Lake Elmo landfill contained PFOA but that he knows of no tests that found the chemical in wells near the plant in Cottage Grove.

Gale Pearson, a Minneapolis attorney representing the two residents, said in an interview that the chemical PFOA “has been found in well water” off the plant site. She offered no details.

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency is assessing whether PFOA poses a risk to humans. Lab animal studies have linked it to liver harm and some cancers. This class of chemicals is a concern because the compounds persist in the environment. Trace amounts of the substances have been detected in humans, wildlife and waters around the world.

Neighbors of the Alabama 3M plant sued the company last month, alleging groundwater and soil contamination. The Montgomery, Ala., law firm handling that litigation in Morgan County, Ala., is assisting in the Minnesota suit. 3M has denied the allegations in that case.

“For decades 3M has monitored employees who have worked with this chemistry and has found no adverse health effects caused by these compounds,” 3M’s Renner said.

DuPont, the maker of Teflon, began manufacturing PFOA after 3M left the business. In September, the company agreed to pay as much as $343 million to settle a lawsuit alleging its plant contaminated drinking water in West Virginia and Ohio with PFOA. DuPont agreed to spend up to $235 million for medical tests of residents and to study whether PFOA is harmful to humans.

The lawsuit in Minnesota also seeks medical monitoring of residents as well as unspecified money damages.