EPA tightening rules for 3M-made pollutants

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. -- Regulators have issued tougher rules for two pollutants found in some of Washington County's drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a new "health advisory" for the chemicals -- PFOS and PFOA, both formerly ...

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MAPLEWOOD, Minn. -- Regulators have issued tougher rules for two pollutants found in some of Washington County’s drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a new “health advisory” for the chemicals - PFOS and PFOA, both formerly manufactured by the 3M Corp. The agency slashed the acceptable levels of the chemicals by 75 percent to 70 parts per trillion in drinking water.

In Minnesota, the impact of the ruling will be slight because most drinking water already meets the new standards, according to the state Department of Health.

Water in municipal systems - including Woodbury, Oakdale, Cottage Grove and Hastings - has been treated for years to remove the chemicals, according department spokesman Dough Schultz.

However, officials will check to see if private wells might be affected. “If they didn’t get filters the first time around then they might need them now,” said Schultz.


The number of people affected is likely to be low, said Jim Kelly, manager in the Environmental Health Division of the Department of Health.

“We have been monitoring this stuff quarterly for 12 years,” said Kelly.

He said the new standards did not mean any new risk to public health. “On the scale of hazards, I would rate this as not very high,” said Kelley.

Will ruling factor in lawsuit?

The EPA’s new ruling - essentially saying the chemicals are four times more dangerous than previously thought - may factor into an upcoming multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

The state Attorney General’s office is suing 3M for harming the environment by allowing the chemicals to seep into groundwater. They have been found in fish in the Mississippi River, and in the bodies of Washington County residents.

In ultra-high doses given to mice, the chemicals have been shown to cause cancer as well as harm to the liver, thyroid glands and developing fetuses. Traces of the chemicals have been found in people and animals around the world.

No dollar amount has been set for damages in the Minnesota lawsuit. But a 2005 lawsuit in West Virginia involving the same chemicals resulted in a $300 million settlement against DuPont Corp.


A spokesman for the Minnesota Attorney General’s office on Friday declined to comment for this article.

Never shown to be harmful

Both 3M and state officials have said that the chemicals have never shown to be harmful in the amounts present in Washington County drinking water.

The parts-per-trillion found in drinking water are extremely small amounts - for comparison, one trillion seconds is roughly equal to 33,000 years.

“The state has not identified a single person who has suffered an adverse health effect from environmental exposure” to the chemicals, said William A. Brewer III, partner in the 3M law firm Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors.

The EPA says that its health advisories are not warnings or legally-binding standards. They are “benchmarks for determining if concentrations of contaminants in drinking water are safe for public consumption.”

The new advisories for levels over 70 parts per trillion are meant to be “protective” for people who drink the water over a lifetime, according to the EPA.

Chemicals’ history


3M manufactured a family of chemicals called perfluorochemicals beginning in the 1940s. They are used for making stain repellent, fire-extinguishing foam and non-stick cooking surfaces.

The company legally disposed of the chemicals in landfills in Woodbury and Oakdale, ending in the 1970s. In 2004, state officials discovered trace amounts had leached into drinking water of about 60,000 people in Woodbury, Oakdale, Lake Elmo, Cottage Grove and Hastings.

The company phased out the production of the chemicals in 2002. 3M has spent more than $50 million installing filters in municipal water systems and in cleaning the chemicals out of groundwater.

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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