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EPA orders Cordova 3M to sample, treat contaminated local drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency says it found at least 19 different PFAS chemicals in water around the Cordova facility, constituting 'substantial endangerment.'

CORDOVA, Ill. — Editors note: The above video originally aired on April 6, 2022.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered 3M Company to sample local drinking water and provide treatment for chemical contamination around its Cordova, IL, facility. 3M has agreed to comply. 

According to the EPA, at least 19 different PFAS chemicals have been detected in drinking water within at least a 3-mile radius of the Cordova plant. It also found that chemical discharges have occurred for more than five decades. 

In a press release, the agency found the situation constituted an "imminent and substantial endangerment" to local communities.  

3M is now required to offer treatment, in an effort to remove PFAS, to all private well owners within three miles of the facility, according to a press release from the EPA. A 3M spokesperson says the company also voluntarily offered to do so, prior to the agreement with the federal government. The company must also offer treatment to the Camanche Water Supply in Iowa. 

3M is also ordered to offer drinking water sampling to surrounding community members. Private well owners within a four-mile radius of the facility, as well as public water systems within 10 miles of the Cordova plant and the Quad Cities' public water systems will be included. 

"Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these chemicals," EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said. "This settlement is a critical step forward in our work to protect communities from pollution and hold polluters accountable for their actions." 

The news follows an earlier lawsuit against the company. 

Back in April 2022, the Illinois attorney general filed suit in Rock Island County Circuit Court, saying 3M knowingly manufactured and used dangerous chemicals for years. It went on to allege that 3M had been aware of the toxicity of PFAS chemicals for decades, but downplayed the negative impacts, ultimately contaminating the nearby Mississippi River and residential wells, as well as nearby surface, ground and drinking water. 

"3M's negligent, intentional, and reckless actions have contaminated property and natural resources... at and around the Cordova Facility, harmed property and natural resources... at and around the Cordova Facility, and placed Illinois residents at risk," the suit states. 

June 2020 samples from a monitoring well within the plant's manufacturing area were found to have significantly higher levels of PFAS than what the Illinois EPA advises. 

One specific type of chemical was detected at levels more than 5,700 times greater than the state's health advisory level.

PFAS are Per- and polyfluroakyl substances, known to be harmful, synthetic chemicals that are resistant to heat, water and oil. PFAS have also been called 'forever chemicals' because once out in the environment, the substances are extremely difficult to remove. 

In humans, high levels of PFAS exposure can lead to liver damage, decreased fertility, pregnancy-induced hypertension and/or preeclampsia as well as a variety of cancers.

Individuals can ingest the chemicals by drinking contaminated water or consuming animals that have drank polluted water.

Earlier this year, News 8 spoke to one Cordova resident living near the 3M plant. Back in 2020, Dawn Baumgartner was diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer, despite having no family history of the disease. 

Baumgartner can't prove what caused her cancer but says 3M should have disclosed the health risks of PFAS as soon as they knew.

When 3M conducted its own drinking water sampling around its Cordova facility, it detected a range of contaminants, from perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and more. 

However, it did not use EPA test methods for its samples, prompting the government to require 3M to retest using Environmental Protection Agency methods. 

3M was one of the country's first companies to develop and produce PFAS. Its operations and chemical discharges in Cordova date back to the 1970s. 

In response, 3M stated the agreement with the EPA will build on its work to address local PFAS manufacturing. It's also working to complete construction on a $170 million wastewater treatment system at its Cordova facility. 

"This agreement demonstrates the positive impact that engagement between regulators and 3M can have for communities, and we appreciate the EPA's work to reach this milestone," said John Banovetz, 3M Executive Vice President, Chief Technology Officer and Environmental Responsibility. "We are committed to continuing our work with community and government stakeholders to chart a path forward that uses science to manage our operations, create important products people rely on, and engage our communities." 

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