Washington, DC — A Minnesota state scientist has filed a federal whistleblower complaint over threats, reprimands and restraints against her for disclosing widespread contamination stemming from release of chemicals used by the 3M Corporation for 50 years in a number of popular consumer products, according to a copy of the filing released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
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 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. In recent weeks, the harassment of Dr. Oliaei includes –
- A reprimand for comments she made in an agency-approved interview with Minnesota Public Radio. The agency now contends that Dr. Oliaei’s remarks lacked proper “disclaimers,” misstated the agency position and “dishonored the hard work” of colleagues; and
- An order forbidding her to supply information requested by members of the State Legislature.
MPCA Commissioner Sheryl Corrigan, a former 3M executive, has told Dr. Oliaei that there is no room in the agency for “scientific work.” MPCA manager Marvin Hora also told Dr. Oliaei that if she kept pushing the PFC issue “I will terminate the program (emerging contaminants) and you are the only one in the program.” Last week, on May 11th, Dr. Oliaei’s supervisor asked “Why are you still here? If you really want to be effective, you better get a job somewhere else.”
“Any employee who discloses pollution threats is protected by law from shoot-the-messenger retaliation by her agency,” stated Rockford Chrastil of the Minneapolis firm of Chrastil and Steinberg who is serving as the lead attorney in the case. “Dr. Oliaei should be commended not condemned for her research.”
Dr. Oliaei is seeking whistleblower protection under the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund and other federal toxic waste laws. The complaint triggers an immediate federal investigation and, if the matter is not resolved in 30 days, a full evidentiary hearing before a U.S. Department of Labor administrative law judge will be scheduled.
“This is a whistleblower case of national significance,” added PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, a leading whistleblower attorney who is assisting in the case. “It boils down to whether the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is supposed to protect the public from toxic dangers or simply cover them up.”