Not quite the land of sky-blue waters

3M groundwater contamination in the metro area deserves tougher scrutiny.

In late 2004 and 2005, Fardin Oliaei, a scientist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, found record levels of perfluorochemicals in fish and soil samples from five different sites in the metro area. Perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, had been used for more than 50 years by 3M to make products such as Scotchgard. The production waste from the process, estimated at some 50,000 pounds per year, was dumped into landfills in the eastern metro area, and after discovering the record levels of PFCs and other chemicals in the soil and water, Oliaei urged the MPCA to address the issue.

Instead her findings were met with excuses and foot-dragging, with some saying that Sheryl Corrigan, then-commissioner of the MPCA and a former 3M employee, wasn’t interested in investigating the case and her former employer. Two years later, following hearings at the Legislature, the Minnesota Department of Health has announced that 140,000 residents in the metro have been drinking water by chemicals that have seeped into the groundwater from these landfills for years. Some areas where the chemicals have been dumped are estimated at 158 times the approved level for drinking water, according to a Pioneer Press report.

3M asserts that the levels found in drinking water supplies are safe to drink but were still inclined to purchase a $2 million water filtering system for the city of Oakdale. Because 3M has by most accounts been a good corporate citizen and has been important for the state and especially the east metro area (where its offices are located), people want to believe their claim that the water is harmless. But this issue is far too important to be given the benefit of the doubt, and the state, nearly two years after first being notified of the issue, should begin testing the safety of the water and doing everything it can to ensure that the water that people drink is exhaustively and scientifically proven to be safe.

Minnesota Public Radio has produced an excellent series on this issue called “Toxic Traces Revisited,” and we recommend reading or listening to the program online for further information.