3M + PFOA = worker deaths

March 6th, 2008

The 3M Museum in Two Harbors, Minnesota

Remember not long ago the report that the Minnesota Health Department, when confronted with PFOA contamination of municipal wells by 3M, decided to take “further steps to protect the health of residents” and to do this they RAISE ACCEPTABLE LIMITS OF PFOA rather than come down hard on the polluters? WRONG ANSWER, FOLKS.

Cottage Grove wary of water assurances 

Here’s the MN Dept. of Health press release:

Minnesota Department of Health
News Release

March 1, 2007

Health officials issue new health guidelines for PFOA, PFOS; reiterate protective advice on PFBA

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced today that it is taking further steps to protect the health of residents in south Washington County from long-term exposure to perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in groundwater.

Based on the latest scientific information, MDH has lowered its Health Based Values (HBVs) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), two members of PFC group of chemicals that have been found at low levels in groundwater in southern Washington County. The new HBVs are 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) for PFOA and 0.3 ppb for PFOS. The guidelines previously used were 1 ppb and 0.6 ppb respectively.

“We have been reviewing the available data over the last few months and concluded that there is sufficient scientific basis at this time to justify revising the health based values for PFOA and PFOS,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach.

While research to date has shown no direct evidence that PFCs cause health problems in humans, studies in laboratory animals indicate that at higher doses, PFCs may interfere with liver and thyroid function and may cause developmental effects.

“The new values are protective, scientifically sound and well-researched,” said John Linc Stine, director of the Environmental Health Division for MDH. The new value for PFOA, 0.5 ppb, is the same as a number implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an enforcement action in West Virginia that became effective Nov. 17, 2006.

A Health Based Value is the concentration of a groundwater contaminant, or a mixture of contaminants, that poses little or no risk to health, even if consumed daily over a lifetime. The updated HBVs for PFOA and PFOS take into consideration the potential for health impacts during fetal and other developmental life stages. A clearer understanding of how long these chemicals stay in the human body is also reflecteded in the revised HBVs.

MDH is working with Oakdale and Lake Elmo to address public and private wells that may be affected by the lowering of the HBVs for PFOA and PFOS. Most residents in the Lake Elmo and Oakdale area will not be affected by the change because they are connected to municipal water systems that don’t contain PFCs or treat the groundwater before distribution.

The lowering of the Health Based Values for PFOA and PFOS does not affect those portions of southern Washington County and northern Dakota County where only perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA), another PFC compound, has been found in groundwater.

Those areas fall under the department’s drinking water advice on PFBA, which the department reiterated today.

“We recommend that anyone who has concerns about the potential health impacts from PFBA in their water should limit or reduce their intake of water that has a concentration of more than 1 ppb,” Stine said.

Intake of contaminated drinking water can be reduced by drinking bottled water or by filtering tap water used for drinking or cooking through a point-of-use (POU) activated carbon filter, which removes or greatly reduces PFBA. Water used for bathing, showering or other non-ingestive household uses does not pose a health risk, based on current data.

“We’ve had an initial round of community meetings where more than 800 people heard our advice and heard us talk about things they can do to limit their exposure if they choose,” Stine said. “But we know that there are far more than 800 people in the communities and areas affected by the contamination, so we want to take every opportunity we can to re-emphasize our advice. We also want to share as broadly as possible what we know about point-of-use filters, small, inexpensive filters that can be used to filter tap water.”

Point-of-use (POU) filters can be an effective way to reduce exposure, MDH staff found. They recently tested a number of POU filters commonly available in stores. The testing found that a simple pitcher filter that contains activated carbon was partially effective at removing PFBA from the water, but allows more PFBA to pass through as additional water is filtered. A faucet-mounted filter containing activated carbon worked better, showing full removal of PFBA through about half of its manufacturer’s predicted filter lifetime, and good removal at up to 70-80 percent of its lifetime. Faucet-mounted filtering devices commonly range in price from $15 to $25 and replacement filters cost approximately $15 to $20. Additional information on POU filters with activated carbon is available from the MDH Web site or by calling 651-201-4897.

Stine said MDH staff have determined that sufficient toxicity data does not exist to calculate a chemical-specific HBV for PFBA. However, the advice is based on a comparison of the existing PFBA data to what is known about other PFCs.

“The data that are available for PFBA indicate that this chemical is less toxic than PFOA, a similar chemical,” Stine said. “We believe that 1 ppb is a protective number for PFBA, based on the most recent science, and is protective even of those who may have higher relative water consumption rates, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers and small children.”

Mandernach added, “As more data become available, we will examine it, with the intent of developing a Health Based Value for PFBA. We will continue to work with the EPA, private sector and academia, to accelerate that research and continue to consult with experts on this group of chemicals.”


For more information, contact:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications
(651) 201-4993

John Linc Stine
MDH Environmental Health
(651) 201-4675

Rep. Sandy Wollschlager is in the 3M Environmental department — I expect her to represent her constituency and utilize her connections, to take a leadership role in this and broker a resolution of strong company and MDH and MPCA action, remediation, prevention, company liability to those with contaminated water and harm, and massive fines to 3M.

Today, there’s this in the STrib:

Study: Death rate up for 3M workers exposed to PFOA

By TOM MEERSMAN, Star Tribune

March 5, 2008

Workers who were exposed to a chemical called PFOA at 3M’s factory in Cottage Grove died of stroke and prostate cancer at higher rates than other workers at the plant, according to a new industry-funded study.

The study of nearly 4,000 people who worked at the plant from 1943 to 1997 found elevated stroke and prostate cancer death rates among those exposed to the chemical, which was used until 2000 for nonstick coatings and other products.

Workers with the highest exposures were twice as likely to die of prostate cancer and stroke than colleagues with little or no exposure to the chemical, the study found.

The death rates from those diseases among all workers at that plant were similar to those of the general population, leading 3M officials to call the difference a statistical anomaly.

“Nothing in this study changes our conclusion that there are no adverse health effects from PFOA,” 3M spokesman Bill Nelson said Wednesday.

3M manufactured PFOA from 1947 to 2000 at its Cottage Grove plant and phased out production by 2002. It was used for nonstick cookware, stain-repellent coatings and dozens of other products.

Starting in the 1970s, scientists became concerned about the tendency of PFOA — perfluorooctanoic acid — and other perfluorochemicals to accumulate in people’s blood. 3M started monitoring the health of its employees who worked with the chemical, and in 1980 undertook the first occupational mortality study of its workers.

Although PFOA has been shown to cause liver, pancreatic and testicular cancer in laboratory animals, 3M has maintained that studies of its workers show no health problems.

Dated August 2007

The latest study was financed by 3M and conducted by Bruce Alexander, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist. Although dated August 2007, the study wasn’t placed in a public file with the Environmental Protection Agency until last month.

Alexander did not respond to several requests for comment, and Nelson said Alexander would not talk about the study publicly because it has not been peer-reviewed by scientists and published in a scientific journal.

The study of Cottage Grove workers included nearly 4,000 people who worked at the plant for at least a year any time from 1943 until the end of 1997. About 12 percent of them had definite exposure to the chemical, which can be absorbed through “inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact,” the study said. The rest were evenly divided between those who probably had some exposure to it, and those who had no exposure.

Researchers studied death certificates for workers through Dec. 31, 2002.

“A high or moderate exposure work history, compared to only working in low exposure jobs, was associated with an increased risk for [stroke] and prostate cancer,” it concluded.

Nelson said that differences between the employee groups led to “skewed ratios,” and that the important thing is that overall results for employees show no higher cancer risks than for the state’s population.

However, the researchers also noted that mortality studies “miss the cases that do not result in death,” or that for some reason “may not be listed as contributing causes of death on a death certificate.”

They mentioned that the association between prostate cancer and exposure to PFOA was similar to research conducted by others in 1993. That study found that those who worked for 10 years in the chemical division at the Cottage Grove plant had three times more prostate cancer deaths than those who worked for a decade in nonchemical areas there.

Nelson said that the 1993 research was a “flawed study” because it incorrectly characterized some of the exposed workers, and that the research was disproved by a 2002 study. He agreed with the latest study’s findings that more analysis is needed, now that the mortality study is done.

“Instead of death rates, we plan to look at the incidence of prostate cancer,” Nelson said. “That would be the next step.”

Informing the public

John Linc Stine, environmental health division director for the Minnesota Department of Health, said state officials received the latest 3M study of its Cottage Grove workers Wednesday and have not had time to review it.

Stine said it’s important that 3M has done the work, and that the public will want to know what it means. PFOA is more than merely a concern for 3M workers: Community wells in Oakdale and private wells in Lake Elmo were contaminated with the chemical, likely from wastes that 3M sent to dumps in those areas decades ago. The company has paid for Oakdale to install a huge water filtration system to remove all perfluorochemicals, and for more than 200 private wells in Lake Elmo to be hooked up to untainted city water.

“It’s likely that people exposed to this chemical in drinking water will want to know if they are at elevated levels for heart disease or stroke or cancer,” Stine said. “I can’t answer those questions now but we will look at the study and try to put it in context for the communities.”

Information about the research comes just a week after state health officials relaxed a limit for a different perfluorochemical, PFBA, that has been detected in groundwater beneath much of the east metro area. Water supplies in those communities are no longer considered to be contaminated except for a few private households, which continue to use bottled water or filtering systems.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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