PFOA 2006
PFOA called likely cancer cause.
By John Welbes. Pioneer Press (Minnesota). February 16, 2006.


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February 16, 2006

Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minnesota)

PFOA called likely cancer cause

3M phased out chemical in 2000

Pioneer Press

An independent panel of scientists finalized a report Wednesday that says a chemical that 3M Co. made for decades and used in its popular Scotchgard stain-resistant product is likely a carcinogen.

The Science Advisory Board's report was prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which could factor the findings into regulatory decisions.

"This wasn't going to be the final call," said Deborah Cory-Slechta, a scientist who led a group that reviewed the advisory board report. "As additional data comes in, the EPA will revisit it."

Still, the panel's findings are "significant," according to an attorney who represents residents of Washington County who are suing 3M. The lawsuit claims that the 3M-made chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, contaminated groundwater in Washington County and found its way into residents' blood.

The report from the independent Science Advisory Board "doesn't square with what we've been hearing from industry," which is that PFOA is not harmful, said Rhon Jones, an attorney representing the Washington County residents.

The Science Advisory Board issued its draft report last month and asked for responses from 3M and others. It finalized the report in a teleconference on Wednesday.

Maplewood-based 3M, which submitted a 15-page response, said the panel's classification of PFOA as a likely carcinogen doesn't communicate the weight of scientific evidence, "which suggests PFOA is unlikely to cause cancer in humans."

Cottage Grove residents Felicia Palmer and Sesario Briseno filed suit against 3M in 2004, and attorneys now are seeking class-action status for the case. The attorneys also have coordinated blood tests for dozens of Washington County residents to gauge their levels of exposure.

The Science Advisory Board is a 35-member panel of scientists from leading universities, manufacturers and research institutions around the country. The board's report said that its members' "predominant" view was that PFOA is "likely to be carcinogenic," which is defined as a substance that produces cancer.

The advisory board's draft report drew some critical responses from 3M and other manufacturers. The report relied heavily on some unpublished research reports and, in one unpublished study on mammary tumors, the board didn't consider a working group's review of the report, said John Butenhoff, a 3M toxicologist.

Animal studies have indicated that high concentrations of perfluorochemicals or PFCs, including PFOA, can harm the liver and other organs.

Bill Nelson, a 3M spokesman, declined to comment on what the advisory board report might mean for the Washington County court case. But he noted that the board's report is just one part of the EPA's risk assessment for PFOA.

The EPA also is proceeding with a voluntary stewardship program, asking eight large manufacturers, including 3M, to voluntarily work toward the virtual elimination of PFOA by 2015. 3M decided in 2000 to stop making PFOA and phased out production. The company reformulated Scotchgard, in which it now uses a different chemical.

3M "pledges our continued cooperation with the EPA and global scientific community for further understanding of PFOA," Nelson said.
PFOA has been found in the bloodstreams of humans and animals around the globe. While 3M argues that it's not a health hazard, attorneys representing plaintiffs in several PFOA-related lawsuits around the nation argue that people in communities near former manufacturing sites have higher levels of the chemical in their blood and could be at increased risk for adverse health effects.

3M manufactured perfluorochemicals at its Cottage Grove plant for decades. Last year, 3M provided a $3.3 million grant to the city of Lake Elmo for public water extensions to neighborhoods where PFCs were found in private wells. 3M also announced it would put a filter on a city of Oakdale well to keep contaminants at a safe level.

3M also is being sued in Alabama, where it had a plant that made the chemical.

DuPont, another chemical company, recently settled a class-action case in West Virginia that dealt with PFOA groundwater contamination. The 3M-made chemical was sold to DuPont, which used it as part of its process to make Teflon and other nonstick products. Teflon used on kitchenware, though, isn't thought to be hazardous.

"Should the American public start throwing away pots and pans?" said Enesta Jones, a spokeswoman for the EPA. "We don't think it poses a risk to the American public at this time."

John Welbes can be reached at or 651-228-2175.

© 2006 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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