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Conflict of Interest: Minn. Official Tied to 3M Drags Feet on Teflon Testing

Conflict of Interest: Minn. Official Tied to 3M Drags Feet on Teflon Testing

Friday, June 15, 2007

EWG sent this letter to Sheryl Corrigan, Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. A Minnesota Public Radio investigation raised concerns about Corrigan's priorities with regard to 3M and teflon chemicals.


Ms. Sheryl Corrigan, Commissioner
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4194

March 9, 2005

Dear Ms. Corrigan,

Environmental Working Group (EWG) researchers have spent the past five years studying the family of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) used to make Teflon and a range of other consumer products. As you know, these chemicals are extremely useful, but we are now learning that they are toxic, never break down, and contaminate the blood of over 95 percent of Americans.

You are probably also aware that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has underway the largest chemical safety investigation to date into one compound in the PFC family, the Teflon chemical known as PFOA. At the same time, the EPA is suing Teflon maker DuPont for illegally suppressing health and drinking water pollution data Ð information that might have prompted EPA action against the Teflon chemical decades earlier, had it been submitted as required. Regional and national media outlets have extensively covered this chemical's persistence and its potential health risks. Our research and excerpts of relevant media reports are available at our website, www.ewg.org.

As you know, 3M manufactured PFOA for decades in its Cottage Grove facility, and continues to manufacture other PFCs there. The limited testing for the PFOA chemical in Minnesota water supplies has confirmed its presence in both groundwater and tap water. Studies show that this chemical never breaks down in the environment and that it is linked to cancer and other serious health concerns. In light of this Teflon chemical's established toxicity and persistence, and its confirmed presence in Minnesota waters, we are concerned about comments attributed to you in a Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) report, "Toxic Traces" (http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/projects/2005/02/toxictraces/).

MPR quoted you as saying that you are "not sure if research scientists belong at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency," and that, until you have "the right science to move forward on," your Agency will not monitor the Teflon chemical and related toxins in the state's water supply. MPR also reported that you denied approval for staff scientists' proposals to test for PFCs, stating, in essence, that such science has no place at MPCA.

We ask you to explain why, in the case of PFCs, you have refused to allow further testing. Water testing programs form a core component of much of your Agency's work. We find no logical explanation for your refusal to test for PFCs, given that Minnesota is a core PFC production center, and that the Teflon chemical has already been detected in the limited groundwater and tap water testing conducted to date by others.

As you know, Minnesota's Department of Health has set a health-based limit for the Teflon chemical of seven parts per billion in drinking water. Given the persistence and toxicity of this chemical, we strongly urge you to initiate the testing programs your staff have requested in order to learn if other at-risk water supplies are contaminated. How else will you address MPCA scientists' well-founded concern that these toxins might more widely contaminate water supplies in the state than what has already been documented?

Your refusal to test for PFCs in Minnesota water adds to an apparent, disturbing trend in your Agency to make decisions influenced more by politics than science, to the potential detriment of public health. News reports describe your decision to remove the keynote speaker, Dr. Tyrone Hayes, from Minnesota's February 2005 environmental conference. This award-winning Berkeley scientist planned to explain the role of the country's top weed killer in producing frog deformities, a problem highly relevant to a state with widely documented frog mutations in the wild. According to media accounts, you determined that Dr. Hayes was "not keynote material," but reports at the time posited that your decision for his removal was motivated by politics.

We understand that you are a former employee of 3M who, according to MPR, continues to hold a financial interest of $20,000 of 3M stock. Given 3M's long history of manufacturing in Minnesota, 3M chemicals could be a factor in a number of the state's water problems. You will undoubtedly continue to face decisions that involve pollution from 3M operations.

To eliminate any perception of industry influence, we urge you to immediately sell off your 3M stock holdings. We call on you to clarify your views about the place that science and scientists should have at your agency. Finally, we urge you to initiate the testing programs your staff proposed so that you will have the "right science" to protect the health of the people in your state.

Sincerely,


Jane Houlihan
Vice President for Research