LAKE ELMO, Minn. - Lake Elmo is suing the 3M Corp. - again - for allegedly polluting its water and forcing the city to build a clean-water bypass.
The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to sue the company after backing out of another suit against 3M in 2013.
“The two lawsuits are very similar,” said Lake Elmo attorney Doug Shaftel. He said the city has been trying to negotiate with 3M for some reimbursement, without success.
Neither he nor other Lake Elmo officials would comment further about the suit or estimate how much money the city spent because of the chemicals.
To provide untainted water to residents, the city received $3.5 million from the state in 2014. But it is not known if that was enough to compensate for the cost of dealing with the pollution.
Traces of PFCs - perfluorochemicals - made by 3M were found in groundwater in 2004. The pollution affected about 60,000 residents of Lake Elmo, Woodbury, Oakdale and Cottage Grove.
Lake Elmo officials shut down a city well that was only four years old, saying the pollution was a public health threat. The shuttered well was near Interstate 94 and Inwood Avenue, in a fast-growing part of the city.
To serve that area with water, officials built new water mains north along Inwood Avenue.
The city tried to compel 3M to pay for that water line in 2011, when it joined a lawsuit by the state of Minnesota.
The state sued 3M for “damage to the environment,” based on the PFCs appearing in state rivers and lakes. No dollar amount was specified, but lawsuits in other states involving the same pollutants have resulted in settlements in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The state’s lawsuit has been stalled since it was filed in 2010. Lake Elmo bailed out of the suit in 2014.
With the new lawsuit, Lake Elmo is continuing to reach the same goal - getting paid back for expenses related to the PFCs.
The expenses were unique to Lake Elmo. Out of all the cities affected by the pollution, only Lake Elmo shut down a city well and built new water pipes to other wells.
Most affected cities, including Oakdale, put extra filters on their city water plants to handle the PFCs. Officials in other cities didn’t believe that spending millions to remove the PFCs was justified.
But Lake Elmo has no water treatment plant, according to city administrator Kristina Handt, so it was impossible to install filters that would remove PFCs.
In an emailed response, 3M attorney William A. Brewer said, “3M is surprised Lake Elmo would consider, much less pursue, any claims in connection with this issue.”
The amounts of the PFCs are far too small to harm anyone’s health, he said. “The state of Minnesota has been unable to identify a single person who has suffered an adverse health effect due to environmental exposure to these materials,” wrote Brewer.
He added that pollution that came from a landfill in Lake Elmo was the legal responsibility of the state Pollution Control Agency, and not 3M.
3M manufactured the chemicals starting in the 1940s, for use in household products including Teflon and stain repellent. The company legally dumped some of the chemicals into the landfills in Woodbury, Lake Elmo and Oakdale, ending in the 1970s.
But the chemicals leached into the groundwater. That worried state officials because in mega-doses they have caused cancer, birth defects and thyroid problems in mice. Traces of the chemicals have been detected in people and animals worldwide.
3M stopped making PFCs in 2002.