Saturday, July 11, 2009

In The Long Term

I've come to the conclusion that industrial polluters get off lightly, no matter how big the fine nor how high the cost of the mandated clean-up. Their pollution inevitably has long term consequences, even if those consequences aren't readily identifiable for years. This article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune is a clear example of what I mean.

Toxic compounds have lingered and accumulated in the blood of east-metro residents who drank water tainted with 3M chemicals, a new state study shows.

State health officials said it's unclear what the long-term health effects of those substances might be because studies have been limited and difficult to interpret.

But the analysis of blood samples from 196 adults in Lake Elmo, Cottage Grove and Oakdale found that levels of three toxic compounds were above the national average -- twice the average for one chemical and four times for another. ...

The compounds, known as perfluorochemicals, were manufactured by 3M in its Cottage Grove plant for more than 50 years until 2002. They were used in Scotchgard, Teflon, firefighting foam and hundreds of other products. The company disposed of wastes in area dumps until the mid-1970s.

3M agreed in 2007 to clean up the chemicals in three locations that it owns, and to help pay for removing wastes from the former Washington County landfill in Lake Elmo. The company has also financed hookups with city water for more than 200 households with private wells in Lake Elmo.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, 3M did finally agree to clean up the mess it made, but 30 years later. During those 30 years, the chemicals leached from the landfills into the water table and into the private wells of the area. Residents of the area drank the water all that time, not knowing about the bonus chemical additive.

As the article makes clear, health officials don't know whether the chemical levels in residents' blood portend an increased likelihood for disease, but the fact that those chemicals are in the bloodstreams at two to four times the rates of unexposed citizens is troubling, to say the least.

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