WASHINGTON – One of the largest U.S. chemical companies, which for decades knowingly poisoned its own workers and drinking water supplies near its factories with the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, is fighting one state’s efforts to protect the public from these dangerous compounds.
Minnesota-based 3M has filed a lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire, demanding a court “declare invalid” new rules limiting the legal limits in drinking water for several of the most toxic PFAS chemicals, including PFOA, PFOS, PFNA and PFHxS.
At issue are Maximum Contaminant Levels recently adopted by the state’s Department of Environmental Services, or DES, that would require limits of 12 parts per trillion, or ppt, for PFOA; 15 ppt for PFOS; 18 ppt for PFHxS; and 11 ppt for PFNA. The DES says those standards “ensure greater protection of public health related to the consumption of drinking water” for the residents of New Hampshire.
The new standards are far lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s public health advisory level of 70 ppt. Currently, there is no federal legal limit for any PFAS chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The motive behind 3M’s suit is unclear. But 3M could fear that it would be held responsible for paying a portion of the cleanup costs of helping water utilities comply with the new health-protective PFAS standards.
“The old adage ‘If you break it, you buy it’ should apply to 3M and other corporations responsible for contaminating the drinking water in New Hampshire,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Many New Hampshire communities are struggling to provide safe drinking water to families who, through no fault of their own, had dangerously high levels of 3M’s chemicals in their water for years. Companies like 3M, not Granite State taxpayers, should be responsible for cleaning up the toxic mess they made.”
“3M’s lawsuit is a duplicitous attempt to avoid responsibility for its central role in one of the biggest corporate environmental coverups of all time,” said Cook. “Public health officials in New Hampshire are working to provide the safest drinking water possible, but 3M is doing all it can to stop them.”
3M has one of the longest and most notorious records of corporate deception when it comes to hiding the risks PFAS chemicals pose to human health. The company has known since the early 1950s that PFAS is extremely persistent in the environment and builds up in the blood of people and, since the 1960s, that it is toxic to laboratory animals.
In 1978, 3M concluded that both PFOA and PFOS “should be regarded as toxic.” Yet more than 40 years later, during a Congressional oversight hearing just last month, 3M’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Denise R. Rutherford, told lawmakers the company believes exposure to PFAS chemicals does not present any risks to human health.