3M Settlement Reached with EPA to Clean PFAS Contamination at Cordova, Il. Facility

High levels of PFAS contamination has been found in private drinking water wells out to three miles away from the facility.

3M Company has reached an agreement with federal regulators, which will require the manufacturer to clean up per- and polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminating the drinking water around its Cordova, Illinois facility.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement agreement with 3M over sampling and plans to address contamination at the facility in a press release issued November 3. The plant is a high-tech manufacturing facility which makes adhesive components for things like Scotch Tape, solvent-less adhesives and hundreds of other products.

The EPA reports that recent sampling by 3M found widespread water contamination involving at least 19 different PFAS chemicals in drinking water within a three-mile radius of the plant. The EPA says discharges of PFAS from the facility have occurred over a five-year period and that the situation constitutes an “imminent and substantial endangerment under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

“I have directed EPA staff to use every enforcement tool at our disposal to require manufacturers of PFAS to address potential endangerment to the public and to compel them to characterize, control, and clean up ongoing and past PFAS contamination,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in the press release. “Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these chemicals. This settlement is a critical step forward in our work to protect communities from pollution and hold polluters accountable for their actions.”

PFAS health Concerns

PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals,” since they are known to persist and build up in the environment and human body. The chemicals have been used for decades, due to their ability to resist heat, grease, stains and water.

Over the past several decades, PFAS have been used in a variety of consumer products, including food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, non-stick cooking pans and other items. However, large volumes of the chemicals have also been released into the environment from the use of PFAS in firefighting foam, especially near military bases, airports and other training locations.

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Sampling of private wells by 3M around the Cordova facility found a range of concentrations of different PFAS, some known to be toxic, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which was as high as 25 parts per trillion (ppt) in some private wells near the facility. They also found high concentrations of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOA) and high levels of hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid, more commonly known as “GenX”, which was found in concentrations as high as 59 ppt in some private wells.

Conditions of the settlement agreement require that 3M offer water treatment to all private well owners within three miles of the Codova facility, as well as to the Camanche Water Supply in Iowa, in order to remove PFAS from the drinking water. In addition, 3M must offer drinking water sampling to private well owners within four miles of the facility, and to public water systems out to 10 miles from the facility, including the nearby Quad Cities’ public water systems.

“This agreement demonstrates the positive impact that engagement between regulators and 3M can have for communities, and we appreciate the EPA’s work to reach this milestone,” John Banovetz, 3M Executive Vice President, Chief Technology Officer and Environmental Responsibility, said in a company press release. “We are committed to continuing our work with community and government stakeholders to chart a path forward that uses science to manage our operations, create important products people rely on, and engage our communities.”

Widespread PFAS Contamination

Last month, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters revealed there are more than 57,000 PFAS contamination sites nationwide, mostly located at industrial facilities.

Researchers with the American Chemical Society integrated several nationwide data sets for the first time to create a single map of presumptive PFAS contamination sites nationwide, in order to help with the increasing research and regulations focused on the chemicals, many of which are toxic and linked to cancer and other adverse health effects.

However, the researchers noted there may be many more PFAS contamination sites than their list covers, due to a lack of publicly available information on firefighter training sites, airplane and railroad accidents, and sludge operations like those Collins said contaminated farmers’ fields. 3M is credited as being one of the original companies who developed and manufactured PFAS chemicals in the U.S.

November 2022 PFAS Water Contamination Lawsuits Update

Given common questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits being filed against 3M Company, Dupont and other manufacturers of PFAS chemicals and fire safety equipment, consolidated pretrial proceedings have been established in the federal court system, where claims brought nationwide are all centralized before one judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery and a series of early trial dates to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

There are currently about 3,000 product liability lawsuits over toxic PFAS effects pending nationwide, each involving similar allegations that the companies failed to warn about the long-term health risks from exposure to the chemicals.

Earlier this year, the Court selected a PFAS water contamination lawsuits for the first bellwether trial, which will go before a jury in 2023. While the outcome of the first trials will not be binding on firefighters or other plaintiffs, they will be closely watched and may influence future settlement negotiations over the PFAS cancer risks.

Direct exposure to the chemicals has also been linked to the development of testicular cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer and other injuries among fire fighters, who often are covered in the chemicals while using aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which has been widely used during training and response exercises to combat fuel based fires. As a result of the chemical manufacturers failure to warn about the exposure risks, hundreds of firefighting foam cancer lawsuits are now being pursued throughout the federal court system.

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