The Big Story Blog

Environmental quality: Who pays?

Posted at 8:00 AM on October 13, 2011 by Paul Tosto

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3M helped build Minnesota into a manufacturing power. But there have been trade offs: chemicals and contamination in past decades that demanded clean-up. Each time those stories start to fade, new concerns seem to surface.

Today, we'll focus on the latest questions of environmental responsibility, regulation and who should pay for chemicals discharged into the Mississippi River. The Metropolitan Council is mulling new legal action against 3M. We should know more on that today. We'll look deeper into what's happening and why.

Help us drive the story today. Tell us about your experiences dealing with pollution in Minnesota. We're looking for scientists, homeowners and anyone else with insight. Post below or contact us directly.

Here are three things we know this morning:

Lawsuit weighed. MPR News reports this morning the Metropolitan Council is exploring legal options against 3M over discharging perfluorinated chemicals from wastewater treatment plants into the environment,

To comply with state regulations limiting the amount of a perfluorinated chemical known as PFOS, "the Met Council estimates it will need to spend $500 million to retrofit just one wastewater treatment plant, plus an additional $45 million in operating costs."

3M's view. Company spokesman Bill Nelson told MPR News 3M won't comment on possible Met Council action until it's officially notified.

Nelson noted that 3M has stopped making and using perfluorochemicals and that other manufacturers are still using the materials. As a result, he said, "products based on those chemistries do find their way into Minnesota and into our waste stream."

Carcinogen concerns.Perfluorinated chemicals are the culprit. They've been used for decades by industries and in household products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water, according the State Health Department. Common uses include nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics.

"Ultimately they find their way to wastewater treatment plants, and in the Twin Cities metro area, end up in the Mississippi River," MPR News writes today. "The chemicals build up in the tissues of humans and fish.Researchers are beginning to understand the risks posed by these chemicals, which are suspected of being carcinogenic."

The State Health Department says studies have not shown a direct link between PFCs and human diseases.

3M agrees, saying extensive research has found "no adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to PFOS or PFOA," compounds in the perfluorochemical family.

Still, there are rules and decisions to make on who pays the costs of meeting new state requirements for discharging perfluorinated chemicals from wastewater treatment plants into the environment. We'll explore that today.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.