Washington, DC — Alarmingly high levels of a new toxic chemical have been found in Minnesota fish in the Mississippi River near a 3M disposal site, according to new state figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The record high levels of the chemical found in the livers of predatory fish will be magnified in the livers of mammals, including humans, who eat those fish.
The chemicals are PFCs (perfluorochemical compounds) which bio-accumulate in living tissue and do not break down in the environment. PFCs tend to concentrate in blood and liver tissues of fish and mammals, with those concentrations growing each step up the food chain.
The PFCs found in the latest study were manufactured by 3M, which used the chemical in nationally distributed products, such as Scotchgard, Teflon, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex. While 3M began phasing out use of the chemical in 2000, it has already spread worldwide. 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.
Classified as a toxic, PFCs have caused birth defects and deaths in animal studies. While not yet categorized as a human carcinogen, the chemical has been associated with increased risks of liver and bladder cancers. Once consumed by humans its “elimination half-life” is slow, an estimated 8.67 years.
The new record fish concentrations were reported to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency forum by Dr. Fardin Oliaei, the coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency program on emerging contaminants. Sheryl Corrigan, the MPCA Commissioner, is a former 3M executive who has tried to block further investigations into the chemicals. Dr. Oliaei has filed whistleblower and First Amendment suits over obstruction of her research and her ability to publicly report findings.
Dr. Oliaei found “the highest concentration of [PFCs in] any fish tested to date, and the second highest concentration…for any animal species tested worldwide” in the livers of smallmouth bass caught in the Mississippi near the 3M site. Dr. Oleaei recommends an aggressive expansion of biomonitoring, more extensive sampling to pinpoint chemical hot spots and a review as to whether fish advisories are needed.
“These disturbing fish contamination findings should be of concern not only to Minnesota fisherman and hunters but to everyone downstream, as well,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is providing legal representation to Dr. Oliaei. “These findings underline how quickly new chemicals introduced into the stream of American commerce end up in our bloodstreams.”
PEER is submitting the new findings to the Minnesota Health Department for an evaluation as to whether an immediate advisory about fish caught near the 3M Cottage Grove facility is prudent.
Dr. Oliaei and some of MPCA scientist colleagues are scheduled to testify before the Minnesota Senate Committee on Environment & Natural Resources tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday, October 25, 2005, at 1:30 p.m.