Minnesota – The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has failed to turn over information related to Scientist Fardin Oliaei’s research on contamination stemming from release of PFCs and PBDEs* into the environment. Minnesota State Senator John Marty, who Chairs the Environment & Natural Resources Committee, issued a letter outlining 11 categories of information that have not been received despite a previous meeting and letter to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requesting additional information, according to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Senator Marty’s August 3, 2005 letter to Marvin Hora, Manager of Water Assessment & Environmental Information at MPCA, requested that the agency “provide the rest of the information now.” The information originally outlined in a May 12, 2005 letter indicated that there were “a number of legislators interested in the research scientists and aquatic toxicologists at the MPCA making it a priority to investigate and help establish safe levels of these chemicals in our water.”
Senator Marty’s letter identified several important categories of information that had not been turned over, including –
- MPCA’s research priorities and the criteria used to select research proposals every year since 2003, and the justification for those priorities;
- Information from Dr. Oliaei on toxicity and the levels of exposure we should be concerned about – for adults as well as for children and pregnant women;
- Information on the status of Dr. Oliaei’s proposal for a five year statewide environmental monitoring and biomonitoring program of PFCs in MN; and
- A fact sheet to be produced by Dr. Oliaei on PFCs.
MPCA also failed to turn over information regarding barriers that might have prevented Dr. Oliaei from sharing this information with Minnesota legislators. Senator Marty stated:
This information is even more pertinent now, because the response we received from our letter to her came from you, not her. In addition, we saw media reports of a whistleblower lawsuit shortly after that, in which she alleged that she was being harassed by the MPCA because of her research and communications on these issues.
“The Senator’s letter is right on target,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, a leading whistleblower attorney who is assisting in the case. “The Agency has continued their attempts to silence Dr. Oliaei and the concerns she raised by giving legislators the run around.”
“Dr. Oliaei is an excellent scientist who has genuine concerns about the state of the environment in Minnesota. It is critical that members of the State Legislature investigate how MPCA is dealing with important environmental issues and how the agency is trying to silence and drive out a highly skilled and conscientious employee”, said Rockford Chrastil of the Minneapolis firm of Chrastil and Steinberg who is serving as the lead attorney in the case.
Scientist Fardin Oliaei, the coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency program on emerging contaminants, sought to open investigations into chemicals used in the manufacture of nationally distributed products, such as Scotchgard, Teflon, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex. Manufactured by 3M, the chemicals, known as perfluorochemical compounds or PFCs, do not break down in the environment and bio-accumulate in living tissue. While not yet categorized as a human carcinogen, PFCs have caused birth defects and deaths in animal studies. 3M began to phase out manufacture of the chemicals in 2000, but it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of pounds remain in the environment.
After Dr. Oliaei discovered PFC contamination in half of the fish she examined from what are considered pristine waters of Voyageurs National Park, the agency denied her repeated request to broaden the investigation. On May 16, 2005, Dr. Oliaei filed a federal whistleblower complaint based on actions taken against her by the agency.
* Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are among the most widely used of the brominated flame retardants. PBDEs are of increasing concern to scientists and regulatory agencies because of their ubiquitous presence in the environment and bioaccumulation in humans, wildlife and aquatic organisms. Environmental distribution and concentrations of PBDEs in humans are of concern due to their association with endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, and developmental neurotoxicity.