Minn. Senate Votes to Examine Health Risks from 3M Co. Chemicals

April 24, 2007

With traces of industrial chemicals linked to 3M Co. products turning up in more places, legislators are demanding that state scientists step up their examination of health risks and are allocating money for testing and drinking-water filters.

The state Senate voted 60-3 for a bill ordering the Department of Health to adopt firmer health-risk limits and produce a report that describes possible health effects from perfluorochemicals found in water supplies and fish around the Twin Cities.

A separate Senate bill approved three weeks ago sets aside hundreds of thousands of dollars for blood tests and water filters in affected areas.

“Our government and our state has been in a state of denial about these chemicals for too long,” said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis. “We’re moving from a state of denial to a state of action.”

The chemicals, which have been detected in several forms, were used in stain repellents, nonstick cookware and other products 3M manufactured for a half century at a plant in Cottage Grove, a St. Paul suburb.

Pollution control and health officials are studying how the chemical contamination spread and what risks exist for humans who ingest them through water or fish. The greatest concentrations have been found in suburbs east of St. Paul, but on Monday the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said a form of the compound showed up in fish in the Minneapolis chain of lakes. The agency issued a fish consumption advisory.

3M has said its own laboratory tests on animals have shown the chemicals found in water wells pose no risk to residents.

The sponsor of the bill debated Tuesday _ Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport _ said her constituents aren’t sure what level of perfluorochemical exposure the state considers to be safe. Her bill requires the risk limits be adopted by August and the study on health effects be done by January.

A similar bill is pending in the House.

3M spokesman Bill Nelson said the company supports the concept of setting health risk limits but isn’t taking a formal position on Sieben’s bill.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the legislation goes too far in telling trained scientists how to proceed. The department could set risk limits if it wanted, he said.

“It furthers a sense of concern and hysteria that is not warranted,” Hann said.

Hann also argued that the limits could improperly influence a pending lawsuit against 3M. A group of suburban residents sued the company claiming their health was compromised and their property values were hurt by the contamination; the lawsuit seeks class-action status.

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