3M From Page 1 “This announcement (of the investigation) reveals a shocking and egregious disregard for the health and safety of residents of Cottage Grove and the environment from 3M,” Bigham …
3M From Page 1
“This announcement (of the investigation) reveals a shocking and egregious disregard for the health and safety of residents of Cottage Grove and the environment from 3M,” Bigham said. “We should expect corporations to follow the rules and adhere to the guidelines necessary to keep people safe, and yet 3M once again ignored this responsibility,” she said. “While corrective action in the form of an $80,000 fine had been taken, Bigham said that this was an “asinine penalty’ for the level of misconduct and responsibility shown by 3M. Aware of other compliance investigations with 3M involved, Bigham said in part that, “I will work with my partners in the legislature and the state to ensure that 3M is held accountable for these actions and that future penalties are much higher.” Catalogue those sentiments for the present. How does it break down locally—or does it, exactly?
Spread over some 1,750 acres, 3M Cottage Grove in South Washington County bills itself as a “virtual, self-sufficient city” due to infrastructure down at the website 3m.com. As it turns out, even largely independent and separate city aren’t immune from state crackdown when it comes to the environment— infrastructure aside.
Located in South Washington County between Highways 61/10 and Grey Cloud Island, 3M runs a Specialty Chemicals or “Chemolite” Division at Cottage Grove, and the bad news is, some of these hazardous chemicals as used in the past can make their way into and then build up in humans, as outlined in a resignation letter from Environmental specialist Rich Purdy, dated for March 28, 1999 and logged as Exhibit 1001 at the website of the Minnesota State Attorney General’s Office, otherwise available at https://www.ag.state. mn.us/Office/Cases/3M/docs/PTX/PTX1001.pdf.
“I resign my position as Environmental Specialist effective 6 April 1999,” the scanned letter reads as Purdy goes on to express “profound disappointment” in 3M’s handling of the environmental risks associated with the manufacture and use of perfluorinated sulfonates,” or PFOS.
“Perfluorooctanesesulfanate is the most insidious pollutant since PCB,” Purdy’s letter states, going on to say that it does not degrade as PCB and is “more toxic to wildlife,” while the end point or “sink” for PFOS in the environment “appears to be biota and not soil and sediment, as is the case with PCB,” he wrote back in 1999.
In case it’s not clear, “biota” refers to life, including humans, which as being near the top of the food chain can consume and store those chemicals that initially end up elsewhere, such as in fish.
With 3M slow to respond to Purdy’s concerns in the late 90’s, he was resigning, as Purdy said that for him it was “unethical to concerned with markets, legal defensibility and image over environmental safety.” Production of these chemicals was phased out by 3M in 2002, per an article at mprnews. org Fast forward 20 years, however, and an aftermath of sorts is playing out, if not quite the same tenor. The hazardous, cancer-causing chemicals in question, haven’t broken down over time, but instead are showing up in groundwater “Environmental testing shows that the groundwater beneath the 3M Cottage Grove site is contaminated with PFOA, and other PFAS including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA),” the Minnesota Department of Health Website says under an article entitled “PFAS at 3M-Cottage Grove.”
But while the same article says that “PFAS have been detected at concentrations below levels of health concern in the Cottage Grove municipal wells and private drinking wells” near the site, the same river, as the groundwater in South Washington County flows, well, south at the site near the Mississippi River. From there, it flows downstream. But it gets even more interesting to the one who digs deep enough, as Cottage Grove isn’t necessarily the source (or only one) for contamination in local groundwater.
“The sources of the PFAS in the city and private wells are believed to be the 3M-Woodbury Disposal Site and possibly also the 3M-Oakdale Disposal Site and Washington County Landfill in Lake Elmo,” the Minnesota Department of Health website states, going on that 3M has been monitoring the level of PFAS in worker’s blood since the 1970s, which serves to establish awareness if nothing else on the part of the company.
Called to account by the State, 3M has paid $80,000 in civil penalties for its violations, and in addition has (per the Pollution Control Agency)—“completed 15 corrective measures, including hazardous waste wastewater prevention methods, updated annual training for employees, and enhanced recordkeeping of hazardous waste at the facility.
That last one comes after it was determined that some hazardous waste containers were stored 714 days or roughly two years past the one-year/365-day restriction. Not paying attention in chemistry class or else to the environment can be costly, or so it seems.
In the meantime, it makes one wonder what might be lurking in groundwater, if the current enforcement regime isn’t well enforced—but that’s a question, for future generations.