Read the full article by Michael Hawthorne (The Chicago Tribune)
“By the late 2000s, it was clear that forever chemicals were in the blood of nearly every American.
Alarmed by the threats to public health, Minnesota officials pressured 3M to dramatically reduce pollution released into the Mississippi River at its manufacturing plant southeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the global conglomerate pioneered the highly toxic, almost indestructible chemicals after World War II.
In Alabama, a state known for its lax environmental laws, lawsuits prodded 3M to begin limiting pollution and cleaning up contaminated sites near another plant where it makes forever chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
But for more than a decade state regulators in Illinois failed time and time again to hold 3M accountable for air and water pollution from its third PFAS plant in the United States, located on the Mississippi about 15 miles upstream from the Quad Cities.
Illinois officials knew about pollution problems at 3M’s Cordova plant as early as 2008, a Chicago Tribune investigation has found. The federal government, by law the nation’s chief protector of human health and the environment, failed to investigate despite well-documented hazards in other communities where forever chemicals are made.
The harmful consequences are just becoming clear.
Worrisome concentrations of forever chemicals have been found in drinking water in the Quad Cities and two dozen other river communities in Illinois and Iowa. All told, nearly 20 million Americans depend on the Mississippi for their drinking water. Most live downstream from 3M’s Cordova plant in northwest Illinois.
‘It’s difficult to comprehend how devastating this could be for people in the Mississippi watershed and for the river’s ecosystem,’ said David Cwiertny, an engineering professor and director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa.
Some forever chemicals build up in human blood, take years to leave the body and cause cancer and other diseases. Two of the most studied PFAS are so toxic there is effectively no safe level of exposure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared in June after reviewing the latest research.
There are other signs the chemicals have spread well beyond 3M’s property in Cordova. Contractors hired by the company found at least two PFAS in three of eight public water systems and 68 of 72 private wells tested in Illinois and Iowa during the summer, according to company spreadsheets shared with the U.S. EPA.
The most alarming levels were detected on the Illinois side of the river, where concentrations of one PFAS in private wells were up to 6,250 times higher than the EPA’s latest health advisory, intended to highlight when a lifetime of exposure to the chemical in drinking water could trigger health problems.
Levels of two other forever chemicals in Illinois and Iowa drinking water also far exceeded federal guidelines, the 3M testing found.
Under an agreement with the EPA announced last month, agency officials will oversee an expansion of 3M’s surveillance to water utilities up to 10 miles away from the chemical plant and in the Quad Cities, the region’s population center. Private wells within 4 miles of the plant will be sampled as well.
It marked the first time the EPA has weighed in publicly about the Cordova plant. About 300,000 people in Illinois and Iowa live within the area targeted for expanded water testing.” …