- Toxic Secrets: The town that 3M built – where kids are dying of cancer
- Toxic Secrets: Where the sites with PFAS contamination are near you
“As a leading international authority on toxic chemicals, Professor John P. Giesy is in the top percentile of active authors in the world.
His resume is littered with accolades, from being named in the Who’s Who of the World to receiving the Einstein Professor Award from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Professor Giesy was credited with being the first scientist to discover toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals in the environment, and with helping to persuade chemical giant 3M Company to abandon their manufacture.
But Fairfax Media can now reveal that Professor Giesy was accused of covertly doing 3M’s bidding in a widespread international campaign to suppress academic research on the dangers of PFAS.
A trove of internal company documents has been made public for the first time following a $US850 million ($1.15 billion) legal settlement between the company and Minnesota Attorney-General Lori Swanson. They suggest that Professor Giesy was one weapon in an arsenal of tactics used by the company to – in a phrase coined by 3M – ‘command the science’ on the chemicals.
The documents have allowed the state to chronicle how 3M, over decades, allegedly misled the scientific community about the presence of its chemicals in the public’s blood, undermined studies linking the chemicals with cancer and scrambled to selectively fund research to be used as a ‘defensive barrier to litigation’.
Experts have branded the strategies nearly identical to those used historically by the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.
At least 90 communities across Australia are being investigated for elevated levels of the contaminants, including 10 in Sydney.
The Australian government is aggressively defending a growing number of class actions from towns where the chemicals were used for decades in fire retardants on military bases, the runoff tainting the soil and water of surrounding homes.
The Department of Health maintains there is ‘no consistent evidence’ that the chemicals can cause ‘important’ health effects such as cancer. In arguing this, its experts have made reference to the work of 3M scientists, who insist the chemicals are not harmful at the levels found in the blood of humans.
On Saturday, Fairfax Media exposed cancer cluster fears centring on a high school in Oakdale, Minnesota, in America’s upper mid-west, a few blocks from 3M’s global headquarters and where the water was contaminated with PFAS.
3M has vigorously denied the allegations. It did not accept liability in February, when it reached a settlement on the courthouse steps over alleged damage to Minnesota’s natural resources and drinking water…
The actions of Professor Giesy were a jigsaw piece in a much broader puzzle, according to the State of Minnesota. It alleged that 3M:
- Formed an internal team to ‘command the science’ on the chemicals, erect ‘defensive barriers to litigation’ and ensure scientific papers did not include information contrary to the company’s ‘business interests’
- Funded friendly research, on the condition the company could edit the draft scientific papers and, on occasion, control whether they were published at all
- Referred reporters to ‘independent third party experts’ who were actually carefully vetted, paid for their services and signed confidentiality agreements
- Destroyed documents, told staff to stamp all documents relating to PFAS as attorney-client privileged, throw away pencil notes from meetings and not to jot down thoughts because of how they could be viewed during legal discovery. One employee made a note to ‘clean out computer of all electronic data’ on the chemicals.”
Read the full article and series by Carrie Fellner