Facing lawsuits from numerous municipalities including East Hampton Town and residents of Wainscott, the 3M Company is fighting back.
Specifically, the company, which has manufactured products containing the contaminant per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and perfluorochemicals (PFCs) is producing studies that refute the levels at which the presence of the chemicals becomes a health hazard.
The 3M Company, formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, is an American manufacturing corporation specializing in the fields of industry, worker safety, health care, and consumer goods. The company produces a variety of products, Scotchgard fabric protector among them, a popular market item for some 70 years.
The Environmental Working Group maintains 3M has known for decades — and deliberately concealed — that the product contained PFCs that found its way into drinking water. EWG produced numerous studies that indicate PFCs are dangerous contaminants and millions of people have been adversely affected by it.
Now, as the lawsuits multiply, entities suing 3M are harnessing the damaging information, and that means seeking significant monetary damages against 3M in court. The company is embattled on numerous fronts locally. Westhampton, Hampton Bays, Yaphank, Wainscott, and East Hampton have discovered dangerous levels of PFCs.
As early as the 1950s, 3M’s own studies showed that PFAS accumulated in blood, and by the 1960s, 3M’s own animal studies showed the potential for harm. Yet 3M continued to produce PFAS without notifying its employees of the risks, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Since then, there have been hundreds of studies identifying the health risks associated with PFAS. Much more is also known about the wide spread of PFAS contamination. From federal and state data, EWG has identified more than 700 sites contaminated with the substances.
“Although certain PFAS have been detected in the environment at low levels, their mere presence does not mean they’re harmful,” 3M responded in a position paper. “Each PFAS compound needs to be evaluated based upon its own properties.”
But government regulators also have identified known or likely health risks from exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. The EPA’s drinking water advisory said exposure to PFOA and PFOS can cause “developmental impacts during pregnancy and to infants, cancer, liver damage, harm to the immune system, damage to the thyroid, and other effects, including changes in cholesterol.”
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said PFAS exposure can “increase cholesterol levels, decrease how well the body responds to vaccines, increase the risk of thyroid disease, decrease fertility in women, increase the risk of serious conditions like high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and lower birth weights.”
The biggest hit against 3M came in February 2018, when 3M settled a lawsuit with Minnesota’s Attorney General Lori Swanson for $850 million, putting an end to eight years of litigation over “a former Scotchgard ingredient” that got into the state’s drinking water.
“The funds will be used to finance projects that involve drinking water and water sustainability, according to statements from 3M and the state, after Minnesota alleged that chemicals known as PFCs could cause harm to citizens,” wrote Tiffany Kary in Bloomberg.
Despite the settlement in Minnesota, where 3M is based, the company now contends that scientific data linking PFCs to assorted human ailments is sketchy and that the levels of ingestion needed for contamination may be a great deal higher than some studies now maintain.
“While some research has indicated possible associations with certain biomarkers or health outcomes in people for PFOA and PFOS, results across studies examining these endpoints have found either inconsistent or conflicting observations and do not show causation,” the company wrote in response to an EWG query.
EWG responded, “For nearly 70 years, 3M, DuPont and other chemical companies have known that PFAS chemicals build up in our blood. They’ve known for almost that long that these chemicals have a toxic effect on our organs, and they worked to keep that information secret. A number of authoritative health agencies and researchers in the United States, like EPA, ATSDR, and the C8 Science Panel, have linked PFAS exposure to preeclampsia, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, immune suppression, reduced fertility, and other health effects.”
“Some studies have shown that at very high doses some PFAS compounds can result in adverse health effects in animals,” 3M responded. “However, the weight of scientific evidence does not show that PFOS or PFOA causes harm to the environment or people at current or historical levels. Research has shown that the levels of PFOS and PFOA in the general population have dropped by more than 70 percent since 2000.”