February 3, 2006
Minnesota Public Radio
MPCA researcher reports dramatic test
results as she's forced out
By Mike Edgerly
Blood samples taken from Mississippi River
fish near a 3M plant show high levels of a chemical related to
the company's former Scotchgard operations. The
level of the compound PFOS found in some of the fish is believed
to be the highest found anywhere in the world. The tests
were conducted by a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency scientist
who left the agency this week, after a long dispute with her bosses
over her research.
St. Paul, Minn. — Fardin Oliaei collected the samples from
the fish in October 2005.
The blood samples from 24 smallmouth bass, white bass, walleye,
carp and others from the Mississippi River just downstream of
the 3M Cottage Grove plant, showed high levels of several perfluoronated
The highest level came from a white bass.
That sample revealed a PFOS level of 29,600 parts per billion.
The level was so high, the fish was retested and the retest showed
a similar level.
Oliaei quit the agency this week in a negotiated
settlement, in which she dropped her federal whistleblower lawsuit
against the MPCA. She says never has the blood of an animal tested
this high for a perfluorinated chemical.
"That is significant. And I am leaving this agency with
my final voice of asking the public to demand the Pollution Control
Agency to do comprehensive work on this," says Oliaei.
Testing has shown that people, fish and mammals around the world
have traces of perfluorinated chemicals in their blood. 3M's own
testing has shown these chemicals to be toxic in lab animalls.
But 3M says none of its testing has shown the chemicals to be
toxic to humans.
There are no federal guidelines on these compounds, though the
Environmental Protection Agency has asked companies to voluntarily
cease making and using them.
According to Oliaei, if a fish lower in the food chain can show
high levels of PFOS, then animals higher in the food chain could
test even higher.
For nearly 50 years, 3M made and used PFOS and other perfluorinated
compounds in Scotchgard and other products.
One estimate by the Pollution Control Agency estimated as much
as 50,000 pounds of the compounds were released into the Mississipp
River each year.
In 2000, 3M announced it would cease use of the compounds and
had mostly done so by 2002.
These latest test results were revealed by Oliaei in an inteview
with Minnesota Public Radio.
Mike Sandusky, the director of the MPCA's environmental analysis
and outcomes division, says the testing by Oliaei, his former
agency colleague, was valuable. Now that it has this research,
Sandusky says the MPCA will ask the Health Department for its
advice on what the public should be told about the healthfulness
of fish taken from the Mississippi River.
"The Department of Health will use this data to determine
an appropriate response, within their responsiblity, to determine
fish consumption advice for the state of Minnesota. So the analysis
of this data, which is raw data on fish, they will use for appropriate
response for fish consumption advice," says Sandusky.
Oliaei's claims that MPCA Commissioner
Sheryl Corrigan, a former 3M employee and other agency managers
tried to block her work, triggered two hearings by the Senate
Environment Committee, chaired by Sen. John Marty.
That the MPCA views as valuable this latest research from a scientist
it no longer wanted on staff, was not lost on Marty.
"I think the first thing I would do if I were them is hire
someone like Dr. Oliaei -- who was just fired," says Marty.
"I think what we want is people who have some expertise in
this and know what's happening, and are willing to pursue it vigorously."
The samples were taken as part of the second phase of Oliaei's
investigation into the spread of perfluoronated chemicals. Her
earlier research found levels of the chemicals in fish taken from
Voyaguers National Park.
Since then, then perfluorinated chemicals have been detected
in wells in the east metro area.
Though Fardin Oliaei is no longer employed by the MPCA, her work
on perflurornated chemicals will live on at the agency. At her
insistence, and with the help of some DNR staff, fish have been
taken from Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River, where scientists
suspect perfluoronated chemicals may have accumulated in the sediment.
The MPCA's Mike Sandusky says this research is part of the agency's
investigation into the spread of the chemicals statewide.