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Minnesota Sues 3M Over Chemical Disposal

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The state of Minnesota sued 3M Co. on Thursday, alleging its disposal of chemicals once used to make Scotchgard fabric protector and other products damaged the state’s natural resources, including more than 100 miles of the Mississippi River.

The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County, demands 3M pay for the damage, which the state says includes the loss of fish and damage to groundwater, surface water and sediment. The lawsuit doesn’t specify the cost of the damage.

“3M made a mess, they contaminated the waters,” Attorney General Lori Swanson said. “We want them to step up and make it right.”

3M spokesman Bill Nelson said Thursday that 3M has stepped up, pledging to pay the state up to $8 million to cover some direct costs of cleanup and $5 million to fund environmental research into the chemicals. 3M also is working on remediation at its disposal sites.

The lawsuit focuses on 3M’s disposal of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, and their compounds. The Maplewood-based 3M began producing PFCs in the 1940s, and legally disposed of them in landfills until the early 1970s — when the company built a corporate incinerator to handle the waste.

Along with Scotchgard, the chemicals were used in fire retardants, paints, nonstick cookware, and other products.

3M stopped making PFCs in 2002, after negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA said the chemicals could pose a risk to human health and the environment in the long term.

Minnesota’s lawsuit says 3M had researched PFCs and “knew or should have known of the potentially harmful effects that PFCs have on human health and the environment.”

Nelson responded that there have been thousands of studies on the chemicals and: “We can make the conclusion that there are no adverse health effects caused by PFCs at the levels we see in the environment.”

The lawsuit also says 3M disposed of waste at several sites, including at unlined landfills, causing the chemicals to seep into groundwater and contaminate public and private drinking wells in the eastern Twin Cities area.

More than 100 square miles of groundwater have been contaminated, including four major aquifers that serve as the only source of drinking water for about 125,000 Minnesota residents, the lawsuit said.

It also says 3M discharged wastewater containing the chemicals directly into a stream that flows into the Mississippi River. The state claims 139 miles of the Mississippi River, from Minneapolis to south of Winona, have been polluted.

The Minnesota Department of Health has recommended that citizens limit consumption of fish from the Mississippi River and Lake Elmo, and the waters have been listed as “impaired.”

In 2007, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and 3M struck a deal requiring 3M to take steps to remediate the release of PFCs at several disposal sites. Swanson said that agreement was designed to stop further hemorrhaging of the chemicals, but did nothing about existing contamination.

Nelson said 3M is doing just that.

“The important thing is that work is being done at . disposal sites to remove PFCs,” he said.

The lawsuit says 3M is responsible for the loss of use and value of natural resources, as well as the added cost to the public to restore impaired waters and ensure the safety of drinking water. It claims the state is entitled to recover damages up to the time of trial and in the future, and that the damage continues because the release of chemicals hasn’t been controlled.

The state agreed in May to withhold a lawsuit while trying to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with 3M. That agreement expired Thursday without a settlement, so the state sued. Nelson said 3M went into the negotiations in good faith, but there were wide differences in how both sides viewed the potential claims.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

WCCO-TV’s Lindsey Seavert Reports

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