Legislators criticized the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Tuesday for not aggressively investigating the environmental effects of chemicals formerly used by the 3M Co. to make nonstick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics.

The criticism surfaced at a Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee meeting that featured testimony by agency researcher Fardin Oliaei. She began studying the chemicals about five years ago and said that for the past three years, her proposals to test for them have been rejected.

Sen. John Marty, (D, FL-Roseville), said he was extremely troubled by additional allegations: that Oliaei has been reprimanded for talking to reporters, that she has had to pay her own expenses and take vacation time to present her findings at scientific conferences, that her immediate supervisor who also wanted to expand the research was replaced suddenly last year, and that her most recent proposal was given to a different scientist and its objectives changed.

Marty, committee chairman, said it is “outrageous” that agency managers are overruling some of their experts. It’s “mucking around with science and telling scientists not to do their work,” he said.

Kristen Applegate, the agency’s deputy commissioner, said she could not address the details of the situation because Oliaei has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the agency.

But Applegate said the agency is studying whether the chemicals are showing up in the Mississippi River near the 3M plant in Cottage Grove where they were produced until 2000, as well as in landfills where they were disposed and in wells near those dumps. Applegate and other agency officials said that Oliaei’s supervisor was changed as part of a realignment and that travel and research funds are limited.

That was insufficient for Sen. Sharon Marko, DFL-Cottage Grove, who said water quality should be the top priority for the agency. “It seems like the ball has been dropped, and I sure hope it has not been dropped intentionally,” she said.

Marko and others were displeased that MPCA Commissioner Sheryl Corrigan did not attend the hearing. Corrigan was a manager for Maplewood-based 3M before her appointment as commissioner in late 2002. Applegate said Corrigan has recused herself from all decisions related to 3M.

Marty said he expects to have an additional hearing on the public health issues related to the 3M products.

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