February 16, 2006
Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minnesota)
PFOA called likely cancer cause
3M phased out chemical in 2000
BY JOHN WELBES
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
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
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some unpublished research reports and, in one unpublished study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,"
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-2175.
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