Washington, DC — Levels of chemical contamination in fish downstream from a 3M disposal site on the Mississippi River “pose a significant risk to humans and wildlife consuming these fish,” according to new findings released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Environmental Working Group. Despite some readings that are the highest ever recorded, the Minnesota Health Department is again delaying issuance of any health advisory.
The chemicals are PFCs (perfluorochemical compounds) which bio-accumulate in living tissue and do not break down in the environment. The PFCs found in the latest tests were manufactured by 3M, which used the chemical in products such as Scotchgard, Teflon, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex. Through 2002, 3M dumped as much as 50,000 pounds of the chemical per year into the Mississippi River from its Cottage Grove wastewater treatment plant.
The latest findings are contained within a new report by Dr. Fardin Oliaei, who resigned earlier this month as the coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency program on emerging contaminants. Dr. Oliaei’s research indicates disturbingly high PFC concentrations in both fish fillet (the flesh that would be consumed by humans or wildlife) and blood, noting that detected levels in fish “downstream and proximate to the 3M Cottage Grove plant discharge are extraordinarily high and are the highest level in blood of any animal tested worldwide.” Classified as a toxic, PFCs have caused birth defects and deaths in animal studies.
On October 25, 2005, PEER asked the state Health Department to issue a health advisory based on state findings of record PFC levels in livers of fish caught downstream of the 3M dump. In a November 9, 2005 response, the state agency fish demurred, writing:
“PFC concentrations found in fish liver, [while] an indicator of fish’s exposure to PFCs, they do not represent or predict the amount of PFCs in the fillet portion of the fish…Data on levels of PFCs in fish fillet tissue are needed to evaluate human health risk from consumption of these fish.”
On February 8, 2006 state Senator John Marty again urged the Department of Health to adopt public health warnings:
“During the last week, we have learned from Dr. Fardin Oliaei’s research, of some fish samples from the Mississippi River that have been found to contain over 900 parts per billion … in the fillet sample. These data are extraordinarily high, and suggest a significant risk to people who may consume fish from the Mississippi.”
“Dr. Oliaei’s finding suggest much more serious consequences as these chemicals concentrate at higher and higher levels up the food chain,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is representing Dr. Oliaei. “Unfortunately, Minnesota state health and environmental agencies appear to be acting like wholly-owned subsidiaries of 3M.”
“If these test results do not get the MPCA moving, I don’t know what will,” said Dr. Timothy Kropp, a toxicologist with Environmental Working Group in Washington. “Under Sheryl Corrigan, the agency has been dragging its feet on determining how widespread the 3M contamination is, and what to do about it. Dr. Oliaei’s latest findings urgently call out for further testing of local water supplies”.
Dr. Oliaei and some of her former MPCA scientist colleagues are scheduled to testify before the Minnesota Senate Committee on Environment & Natural Resources on Monday, February 27, 2006, at 12:30 p.m.