“Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has asked the state attorney general to sue chemical giant 3M, suggesting that the company must pay for making toxic chemicals that wound up in the drinking water.

Towns across America are coming to grips with an alarming new source of water contamination: a common class of chemicals, called PFAS, implicated in long-term health effects. In Michigan, where the Flint lead crisis is still making headlines, more than 30 sites have detectable levels of PFAS in the water and soil. Two chemicals in this family, PFOA and PFOS, are linked to heart disease, thyroid disease, and cancer, and are thought to make vaccines less effective in kids.

PFAS chemicals are used in coatings that make products water-resistant — like on Teflon cookware, Gore-Tex fabric, and 3M’s Scotchgard — and 3M is among the companies whose technology made the toxic compounds so common. The Minnesota-based company also makes firefighting foams that are used at military sites and airports, and leach PFAS compounds into the environment…

‘It is generally understood 3M was aware of the nature of its products and the threats they posed to public health,’ Snyder wrote in a letter on July 13. He added that ‘despite this knowledge, 3M continued to manufacture, market, and sell its products containing the contaminant without disclosing to its customers and regulatory agencies the threat they posed to the general public.’

Snyder asked that the AG’s suit ‘recover the costs incurred by the state, along with compensating for the environmental harm and the public health threat.’ In December, Michigan agreed to allocate $23 million for water testing and public health departments in towns where PFAS was found.

A spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said that the office is considering the request. In February this year, 3M paid $850 million to settle a similar lawsuit by the Minnesota AG…

Michigan is one of at least 27 US states that have PFAS (which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) compounds in drinking water, often near military bases, airports, or large chemical plants that dump waste into the water…

Some of the highest PFAS levels in the US were measured near dump sites used by the Wolverine World Wide shoe company (which owns the Keds brand) in Michigan’s Kent County. (In January, the state sued Wolverine for its role in contaminating drinking water systems).

And by EWG’s count, Michigan has the highest number of PFAS sites of any state — partly because the state has been making an effort to sample more sites, according to Andrews.

Gov. Snyder created the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (which includes a scientific and public health advisory committees) to guide the state’s response to the water pollutants. And in May, the state pledged to test 1,380 public water systems and about 460 schools for fluorinated chemicals. Michigan lawmakers have proposed setting a state limit at 5 parts per trillion for PFOA — an order of magnitude less than the EPA’s recommendation.

If the AG goes through with the lawsuit, it could eventually recoup some costs for people sickened by the chemicals. But critics say the state could be backing more urgent measures, such as making stricter limits to how much PFAS can be in drinking water. (Currently, the EPA’s guidelines for exposure only include PFOA and PFOS, and not dozens of other chemicals in the PFAS family.)”

Read the full article by Nidhi Subbaraman