The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Toxin Levels Near 3M Plant Support Silenced Researcher

by Brendan Coyne

Oct. 26, 2005 – Recently released information on toxic chemicals found in fish in the Mississippi River appears to vindicate the findings of a state researcher who has been effectively silenced about the issue by her employers.

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The newly public information was presented to a US Environmental Protection Agency forum and was released by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Coordinator for Emerging Contaminants Fardin Oliaei. Oliaei’s powerpoint presentation was obtained and released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Among the more alarming findings of Oliaei’s report is evidence that a form of perflourochemical compounds (PFCs) manufactured by 3M corporation is "ubiquitous" in fish, birds and other wildlife inhabiting the Mississippi River downstream from a company facility in the state.

The report also outlined company reports that employees’ blood was infected with the toxin and noted that lab tests show that the new PFC, known as PFOS, accumulates primarily in the liver and blood. In addition, Oliaei found a "statistically significant" correlation between PFOS blood levels and bladder cancer.

Amid complaints from citizens and environmental groups, and facing unfavorable results from a commissioned Michigan State study, 3M agreed nearly five years ago to cease using the PFCs.

After the company reported PFC contamination on facility grounds in 2002, Oliaei sought to investigate the matter further but was rebuffed in the efforts by her boss, Sheryl Corrigan, a former 3M executive.

According to a whistleblower complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration by Oliaei, the MPCA decision to end investigation into 3M contamination "resulted in an unnecessary extension of PFC contamination of residents’ drinking water" and further endangered Mississippi River wildlife.

Additionally, Oliaei charged, Corrigan and other MPCA superiors threatened, harassed and otherwise treated her unfairly after she went public with information related to the contaminant. She has been effectively gagged by Agency bosses since spring and reprimanded for comments made in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, PEER said in a statement announcing the whistleblower complaint.

In testimony to state lawmakers yesterday, Oliaei accused her bosses of a cover-up and asked the Senate committee to put pressure on Corrigan and other MPCA officials to open an investigation into the possible 3M plant pollution.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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