The Minnesota attorney attorney general filed a lawsuit Thursday demanding that the 3M Co. pay to clean up contaminated water in three counties, alleging that the company discharged cancer-causing chemicals in the Mississippi River.
While the lawsuit did not ask for a specific dollar amount, potential damages could run in the tens of millions of dollars.
The state alleges that landfills used by 3M to store perfluorochemicals (PFCs) for decades have leaked into the Mississippi River and drinking water across the east-metro area.
The action comes after settlement talks between the state and 3M failed.
“The company caused damage to the environment,” Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said.
“3M polluted and damaged our waters with these chemicals,” she added. “The lawsuit asks the company to make right the problems caused by its contamination of our waters.”
PFCs, which do not occur in nature, accumulate in animals, fish and people and do not decompose. High levels of PFCs are known to cause cancer.
The Environmental Working Group notes that PFCs are known to cause testicular, breast, liver and prostate tumors in laboratory animals. Studies also show that PFCs cause hypothyroidism, affect reproduction and the immune system in rats. Young rats die after exposure to levels that do not seem to affect adults.
In a 2009 Washington County suit against 3M, a judge ruled that PFCs were not found in high enough levels to harm people.
The new lawsuit takes a different approach, alleging that the chemicals have hurt the environment, but not people.
“We take natural resources very seriously in Minnesota,” Swanson said.