Don't drink the water, there's perfluorochemicals in the water...
Pioneer Press, WASHINGTON COUNTY - Arguably the largest environmental damage suit in the the history of Minnesota will begin on Tuesday between 3M Co. and six Washington County residents seeking class-action status. The case, which will be brought before Washington County District Judge Mary Hannon, is centered around the finding of 3M chemicals in the drinking water of thousands of homes. [full story here]
The office-supply giant is not contesting that its chemicals have gotten into the water supply, but they do contest the notion that anyone should claim damages for it because no one has actually been damaged. 3M argues that the trace amounts found in the water has never "hurt anyone, anywhere."
The residents argue that 3M unsafely tainted their water, which hurt them either emotionally or physically, and is driving down their property value.
According to the PiPress, the chemicals in question, PFCs or perfluorochemicals, have been used to make products like Scotchguard stain repellant and Teflon since the 1940's. PFCs are not uncommon, and 3M's lawyers argue that the chemicals haven't been dumped in the Washington County landfills since 1975 - at which time dumping was legal and considered normal.
Nevertheless, the article mentions a previous case brought by Virginia residents against DuPont paints in 2004. The residents found trace amounts of the same chemicals in their water supply, and DuPont paid $300 million to remove the chemicals and screen residents for health complications. Still, the trial did not show that the chemicals themselves were harmful. MPR has put out a "Toxic Traces Timeline" that illustrates the history of PFC's.
Washington county residents claim that the trace chemicals can take years to build up into a visible effect, but 3M disagrees, pointing to thousands of safety studies - and 3M has conducted 1,500 of similar studies on their own.
Similarly, this battle could result in hundreds of millions of dollars and could affect over 6,000 people. On Tuesday, Judge Hannon will hear the arguments for and against class-action status. Her decision is expected within the next few months, and the trial could begin as early as this fall.
Additional Information/Related Links
- City of Maplewood: 3M Groundwater Contamination and South Maplewood Wells [PDF]
- waterfilters.net: Minnesota PFC Contaminants
- MPR: 3M chemicals found in drinking water of east metro cities
- Minnesota Polution Control Agency: What Are PFC's?
- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: 3M Chemical Contamination Widespread in Minnesota
- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: Serious Health Risk from PFC Levels in Minnesota Fish
- MPR: Commentaries: Toxic Traces Collection
- MPR (2005): Legislative hearing raises questions about MPCA, 3M relationship