3M Groundwater Contamination Lawsuit: Will There be Individual Suits?

The State of Minnesota is suing 3M for the company’s alleged contribution to groundwater contamination, arguing that it has led to an increase in cancer and infertility among residents that live near its former chemical disposal sites. A recent filing now shows that the State’s expert environmental witness contends that the health and environmental damages from the contamination amount to $5 billion.

The lawsuit was filed in 2010 and stalled until recently. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed documents on November 17 that include expert witnesses stating that perfluorochemicals increased rates of cancer, premature births, babies with low birthweight, and infertility among residents of Washington County.

A Long History

3M manufactured perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, known as C-8) beginning in the 1940s and stopped in 2002. These chemicals were disposed of in landfills in Washington County, specifically in the cities of Oakdale, Woodbury, Lake Elmo, and Cottage Grove. Unfortunately, this became one of the most severe groundwater contamination problems in Minnesota and the chemicals poisoned the drinking water in many parts of the county.

The Dangerous Effects

The State’s expert, David Sunding, a natural resources economist at the University of California, Berkley, studied the epidemiological data and birth and death records for Washington County and Oakdale during the time periods before and after the city started filtering chemicals out of its water supply. According to Sunding’s findings, between 2001 and 2006 when residents had contaminated water, there were more low birthweight babies born, low fertility, and higher cancer rates. Mothers in Oakdale were 34 percent more likely to give birth to a baby who weighed less than 5 ½ pounds, and this number dropped 13 percent after Oakdale switched to an uncontaminated water system in 2006. Moreover, he found prostate cancer to be 30 percent higher in Washington County than in other counties in Minnesota between 2005 and 2012.

The filings allege that 3M knew about the contamination of the groundwater long before it stopped producing the chemical compounds. However, 3M attorneys claim that “tiny traces of the perfluorochemicals in the drinking water have never been proven to cause any health effect.”

This case is scheduled to go to trial on February 13. If the State’s experts are believed and the case is successful, it will have profound effects on whether individuals can bring cases against 3M.

In January, an Ohio jury awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and $10.5 million in punitive damages after a plaintiff sued DuPont for similar charges to 3M. DuPont dumped C-8 which gave this plaintiff testicular cancer. DuPont then reached a settlement with the residents of Ohio and West Virginia for $671 million.

GoldenbergLaw has over 30 years of experience handling toxic exposure cases. We are currently investigating fertility and prostate cancer claims involving residents of Oakdale, Woodbury, Lake Elmo, and Cottage Grove. Contact Stuart Goldenberg for more information.