3M Settles Lawsuit Over Scotchgard Water Pollution in Minnesota

3M has agreed to pay $850 million to settle a long-standing lawsuit filed by Minnesota, over the company’s disposal of perfluorochemicals used in Scotchgard and other products, which the state says polluted drinking water sources. 

The Scotchgard water pollution settlement came on the same day that a trial was set to begin over a $5 billion lawsuit filed against 3M Company by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources eight years ago.

According to the complaint, the company dumped perfluorochemicals (PFCs) used in nonstick cookware and Scotchgard stain repellant from its Cottage Grove plant in dumps across the state. In 2004, the chemicals were found to have infiltrated the drinking water of about 67,000 people statewide.

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PFCs are used to make fluoropolymer coatings that can resist heat, stains, grease and can make things waterproof. Many of them do not break down in the environment and have been found to accumulate in humans and animals. Exposure is believed by many health experts to increase the risk cancer, birth defects, and thyroid problems, however the side effects are generally considered to be unknown.

However, 3M claimed that there is no evidence of adverse human health side effects. The company also argued that how it dumped the chemicals was legal when the dumping activity occurred, and that the amounts in the state’s drinking water were too small to have had any health effects.

In addition, a study released just before the trial began questioned whether there were any health studies. However, in November, Minnesota health officials linked PFCs to clusters of cancer cases and premature births just outside of Minneapolis, and declared that the state would seek additional punitive damages when the case went to trial.

“It is believed that from 1950 to the early 2000s, 3M dumped millions of pounds of the waste from its PFC manufacturing process in the ground and water in the east metropolitan area of the Twin Cities. Minnesota quickly became ground zero for PFCs,” the Minnesota Attorney General’s office states on its website. “For three decades—from the 1950s to the 1970s—3M simply dug trenches in the east metro and dumped the chemicals.”

The trial was halted on Tuesday morning, during jury selection and the settlement agreement was announced later that day.

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