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3M will pay $850 million in Minnesota to end water pollution case

21 February 2018

3M Co. will pay $850 million to settle Minnesota's lawsuit, claiming the manufacturer contaminated water in the state for at least five decades.

The trial set to start February 20 was pushed back one week after the Minnesota Department of Health released an analysis finding that cancer and low birth weight or premature birth rates were no higher than the rest of the metro.

As 3M's case progressed - at one point taking a four-year detour when the company sought to disqualify Minnesota's counsel Covington & Burling because it had once represented 3M on the chemicals' use in microwave popcorn bags - science advanced. The company denies it did anything wrong or illegal.

During the trial, the state argued that 3M knew the chemicals would cause contamination, but hid the risk contamination posed to drinking water in the east metro.

Controversy is growing over the main chemicals involved, PFOS and PFOA, as well as the entire class of perfluorinated compounds - or PFCs - which are still used in stainproof and waterproof treatments and food packaging. The company, which is based in Maplewood, Minnesota, began producing PFCs in the 1950s and legally disposed of them in landfills for decades.

The chemicals, once used to make stain protector Scotchgard, among other products, polluted ground and surface water in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, according to the state. Minnesota sued in 2010, alleging 3M researched PFCs and knew the chemicals were getting into the environment and posing a threat to human health. But in 2004, trace amounts of the chemicals were found in groundwater near one of 3M's dumping sites east of St. Paul.

I am pleased that we have reached a resolution in the State's lawsuit against 3M relating to the presence of certain PFCs in the environment.

In a statement Tuesday, 3M senior vice president of research and development John Banovetz said the company is proud of its record of environmental stewardship and does not believe there is a PFC-related health issue.

Jury selection has been halted in Minnesota's $5 billion case against 3M Co., on the day the trial was expected to start.

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"We do not believe there is a PFC-related public health issue in Minnesota and look forward to discussing the [Minnesota Department of Health] report with the State during trial", the company said in a statement to the Star Tribune.

Low levels of PFCs have been found in the environment, humans and wildlife across the globe.

"This money is dedicated to fixing the problem", said Attorney General Lori Swanson at a news conference in Minneapolis.

"The impacts would be enormous just because of the extent of contamination nationwide and how much work still needs to be done to really clean up the mess", Andrews told The Associated Press.

Since the Minnesota lawsuit was filed in 2010, concerns over PFCs have grown.

The suit does not focus exclusively on health, however, but Swanson also argues that 3M's dumping negatively impacted the environment, documents related to PFCs were destroyed to keep cover up information and that keeping facts from the scientific community kept important studies on PFC effects from being completed earlier.

The documents included a study from Swanson's expert witness, David Sunding of University of California-Berkeley, which points to a higher incidence of infertility in women and lower birth weights in Oakdale.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have been named the trustees of the settlement money.

The company says there's no evidence the chemicals have impacted human health.

3M will pay $850 million in Minnesota to end water pollution case