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Analysis: No clear health impact from 3M chemicals

A new analysis by the Minnesota Department of Health finds drinking water contaminated by 3M Co. apparently has not caused higher rates of cancer or low birth weights in parts of Washington County compared with the rest of the state.

The Star Tribune reports the results were released Wednesday before the state’s lawsuit against 3M goes to trial next week. Those results contradict the conclusions of an expert hired by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

State health officials say they used widely accepted statistical methods to reach their conclusions. They note their findings are identical to those they reported in 2007 and 2015.

The Maplewood-based company began manufacturing non-stick perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in the 1940s and stopped production in 2002.

Health officials say the review shows that efforts to protect residents of Washington County from drinking water contaminated by the chemicals have paid off.

“Our role is to serve the community and address their concerns,” said Jim Kelly, senior health manager at the Health Department. “We felt obligated to share it.”

But officials from Swanson’s office say the state Health Department has long acknowledged the health risks associated with PFCs.

“My conclusion is that it did not want to be embarrassed by the fact that, as it relates to 3M and PFCs, it has been late in coming to the table to protect the interests of the public,” said Ben Wogsland, spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

Health officials say they reanalyzed birth and cancer data for the southeast metro communities that have long been affected by a 100-square-mile patch of contaminated groundwater. While the review found no apparent higher rates of cancer or low birth weights compared with other parts of Minnesota, health officials said that doesn’t mean PFCs are harmless.

Swanson alleges the contamination caused by chemicals 3M legally dumped in the Twin Cities area caused $5 billion in health and environmental damage for which the company should be liable.

The company contends the lawsuit is a “misguided attempt” to force 3M to pay for a problem that does not exist.

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