Minneapolis — A Minnesota state scientist has been forbidden from answering questions submitted by legislators or accepting invitations to speak at scientific conferences about the public health threat from new, high-tech, emerging contaminants, according to a federal civil rights suit released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The federal suit filed in Minneapolis names Sheryl Corrigan, Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and her top deputies as defendants.
Dr. Fardin Oliaei, the coordinator for the MPCA program on emerging contaminants, has been reprimanded for expressing opinions in media interviews that do not match official policy, forbidden from speaking at scientific seminars and had her funding cut off for investigations into chemical contaminants.
The suit cites the First Amendment, federal civil rights statutes and the Minnesota Human Rights and Whistleblower Acts. Dr. Oliaei is seeking to have agency gag orders lifted and to be allowed to complete her scientific research free from further harassment. MPCA Commissioner Corrigan, a former 3M executive, has blocked Dr. Oliaei’s investigations into chemicals manufactured by 3M that were used in nationally distributed products, such as Scotchgard, Teflon, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex.
“Government scientists are protected on the job by the First Amendment precisely because they work for the public,” stated Rockford Chrastil of the Minneapolis firm of Chrastil and Steinberg who is serving as the lead attorney in the case, noting that the new federal suit subsumes many of Dr. Oliaei’s prior administrative filings. “Forcing public science through the screen of politics does a dangerous disservice to the people whose drinking water and health may be at risk.”
The chemicals at issue include –
- PFCs, perfluorochemical compounds, which bio-accumulate in living tissue and do not break down. While not yet categorized as a human carcinogen, PFCs have caused birth defects and deaths in animal studies. 3M began to phase out production of the chemicals in 2000, but hundreds of thousands of pounds remain in the environment;
- PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are among the most widely used of the brominated flame retardants. Found widely throughout the environment, PBDEs also bio-accumulate in humans, wildlife and aquatic organisms and have been associated with endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, and developmental neurotoxicity; and
- Suites of new agents that are chemical variations of phased out agents. Each year, approximately 1,700 chemicals are introduced into the stream of commerce without prior public health review.
“These chemicals are already spreading rapidly through the environment and can even be found in the flesh of fish from the remote waters of Voyageurs National Park,” added PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, a leading whistleblower attorney who is assisting in the case. “As its name implies, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is supposed to investigate not ignore emerging pollution threats.”