Two Cottage Grove, Minn., residents sued chemical maker 3M Co. in state court Oct. 8, alleging contaminants from the companies manufacturing processes harmed nearby residents.
The putative class action, filed by Felicia Palmer and Sesario Briseno, allege repeated releases of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctonoic acid (PFOA) caused injuries and property damage. The lawsuit seeks funds for medical monitoring.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Gale D. Pearson said the lawsuit is similar in nature to asbestos cases filed by plaintiffs who have not yet been diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses. The plaintiffs are expected to have an increased risk of disease, she said, and live with a fear of injury caused by their exposures.
Rick Renner, 3M spokesman, said the Maplewood, Minn.-based company believes the lawsuit is merit less. He said 3M monitored employees who worked with PFOS and PFOA. and found no adverse effects.
Renner said the lawsuit misrepresents extensive scientific research, and that 3M is unaware of any evidence that its production or use of the chemical compounds has caused any problem with the water or soil near its facilities.
The bioaccumulative chemicals, used to make certain products soil- and stain-resistant, are no longer manufactured at the Minnesota plant.
Medical Monitoring. Plaintiffs’ attorney Gale D. Pearson, of Pearson & Associates of Minneapolis, told BNA the case is ideal for pursuing a medical monitoring class.
The damage caused to the plaintiffs by exposure is not clear, she said, but it is known that the chemical compounds have a half-life of 4% years inside the body, binding to proteins in the liver.
With information that the compounds can cross the placenta and contact the fetus of a pregnant woman, she said, it is difficult to argue that they do not cause some sort of injury. Additional studies indicate the compounds can cause an increased risk of prostate cancer, she said.
Pearson said the information makes a good argument for a medical monitoring class, so the harm done to those who have ingested PFOS and PFOA can be determined.
However, she said, such monitoring must be performed by an independent group. Allowing 3M to study the exposures would be akin to cigarette manufacturers studying the health effects of smoking cigarettes, she said.
Negligent Operation. According to the lawsuit, the production of the chemicals requires some 600 steps, and that releases can occur at any stage of the cycle. The lawsuit allege that PFOS, once released, is persistent in the environment, with destruction only occurring through high temperature incineration. PFOA is also persistent, and is not known to break down in water, soil, air, or the human body, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit contends 3M breached its duty of care by negligently operating and managing its Cottage Grove plant, allowing the two chemicals to be released into the environment. Furthermore, 3M failed or refused to advise those living near the plant of the health dangers posed by the release of PFOS and PFOA.
Because of 3M’s negligence, the lawsuit says, plaintiffs will incur expenses in monitoring the latent illnesses associated with ingestion of the two chemicals, medical and hospital bills for treatment of their injuries, emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment, and the loss of the enjoyment of life.
The lawsuit further alleges that each person who has ingested PFOA and PFOS has been or will be at greater risk for physical and biologic injury. The increased risk of a latent disease makes it necessary that each class member undergo periodic diagnostic medical examinations, the complaint states.
Finally, the lawsuit alleges 3M caused a substantial and unreasonable interference with the plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their properties, as well as a continued trespass and battery against them.
The lawsuit seeks medical monitoring for class members, plus compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees. The lawsuit also asks the court to enjoin 3M from further PFOS and PFOA releases.
Class Size Uncertain. Pearson said class size has yet to be determined. While about 30,000 people live in the Cottage Grove area near the plant, it is unlikely that all would have been exposed to the two chemical compounds.
The class will probably be limited to those whose exposure levels are such that they can anticipate future health effects, she said.
Pearson said she would rely on science to determine what those levels would be.