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3M’s support for PFAS could cost taxpayers billions of dollars

The failure of manufacturers to report and deal with potential PFAS problems when they learned of them is saddling the companies with mounting legal costs.

Members of a 3M committee at headquarters in Maplewood had two big questions to answer in spring of 1978.

Did studies showing PFAS chemicals were more toxic to animals than 3M thought pose risks to public health and the environment? Or did research that PFAS were collecting in the bodies of 3M workers pose risks to public health and the environment?

If the answer to either or both questions was yes, the 3M Fluorochemicals Technical Review Committee knew it was required to tell the federal government about those risks within 15 days. Instead, confidential meeting minutes show, committee members decided the evidence wasn’t strong enough to warn the government or the public.

Yet the confidential minutes of a second meeting a month later also show the committee “urgently recommended that all reasonable steps be taken immediately to reduce exposure of employees to these compounds.”

These 40-year-old choices, found among tens of thousands of pages of secret documents unsealed by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and a Washington County judge, represented a critical juncture, say public health and environmental advocates.

The failure of 3M and other manufacturers, such as DuPont, to publicly report and deal with potential PFAS problems when they first learned of them is saddling the companies with mounting legal costs because of lawsuits brought by several states and individuals. And it’s about to cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars.

3M told the Star Tribune that it has paid “more than $1.2 billion” to treat PFAS pollution. That is a fraction of the $10 billion in taxpayer funds the country’s new bipartisan infrastructure bill allocates for PFAS cleanup. Other proposed PFAS pollution bills in Congress allocate billions more to clean up a mess 3M and other corporations made.

The Department of Defense spent $1.1 billion on PFAS cleanup in 2020 and estimates it will spend $2.1 billion more in 2021, according to the Government Accountability Office. Officials say it will take decades to address the pollution.

University of Michigan Prof. Allen Burton, editor of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, said knowledge that PFAS was accumulating in humans “should have been enough to stop production.”

It wasn’t. 3M and others chose not to tell the public what they knew. They continued using PFAS that, over time, spread to the bodies of most Americans and hundreds of millions around the world. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, do not break down naturally. Instead, they migrate throughout the environment, circulating through surface and groundwaters, soils and air. This results in potentially substantial exposures and increases in fish, wildlife and humans.

And as part of a $671 million lawsuit settlement in 2017, Dupont convened a panel to study a 3M-made PFAS called PFOA. DuPont and Chemours Co., which produced Teflon in Parkersburg, W.Va., using the 3M product, denied any wrongdoing. However, Dupont’s panel concluded that PFOA was likely linked to kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and hypertension during pregnancy for people living around the Teflon plant.

The FDA says the data are “inadequate to evaluate cancer effects associated with PFBS exposure,” referring to one of the chemicals in the PFOA class. But the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, has classified PFOA as possibly carcinogenic.

‘Defend our record’

To this day, 3M stands by its handling of PFAS. The company still argues that PFAS are safe to humans in the levels that exist in the environment. The company says it still makes and uses some of the fluorochemicals “to help make innovations like lifesaving medical devices and low-emission vehicles possible.”

“3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS … and will vigorously defend our record of environmental stewardship,” the company said in June.

PFAS are used in hundreds of everyday products from waterproof clothing and Teflon cookware to food packaging and firefighting foam. It took until the early 2000s for the public to begin to learn that these chemicals also had major problems. By then, PFAS had polluted municipal water systems, groundwater, landfills and military bases at thousands of sites across America. For instance, a new report shows PFAS groundwater pollution at an Air National Guard base near Duluth.

“Cleaning up PFAS contamination is a Biden-Harris administration priority,” an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokeswoman told the Star Tribune in an e-mail. “The administration is currently discussing options for moving forward with the designation of PFOA and PFOS as a hazardous substance.”

After the EPA under former President Donald Trump strongly opposed a major PFAS regulation bill, new EPA chief Michael Regan has created a new Council on PFAS and is “evaluating the best available science to establish” enforceable maximum contaminant levels for PFOA and PFOS, the most toxic kinds of PFAS, in drinking water, the spokeswoman said.

States are also exploring legislation and regulations. This spring, the Minnesota Legislature banned PFAS from food packaging by 2024.

“There is a substantial amount of peer-reviewed literature documenting adverse effects, which is why there is [now] so much regulatory activity,” Burton said. “I think 3M is on the hook for a lot in this international catastrophe.”

In June, Joanne Stanton told a U.S. Senate committee that she is one of three women on the same street in Warminster, Pa., with a child who developed cancerous brain tumors containing embryonic tissue. Stanton told the Star Tribune that all the mothers and children grew up drinking water heavily polluted with PFAS used in firefighting foam at two nearby military bases.

Research shows that PFAS can cross the placenta from mother to fetus, said Jamie DeWitt, a PFAS researcher at East Carolina University. Breast-feeding babies can also ingest PFAS from their mothers, Harvard epidemiologist Philippe Grandjean said.

New Yorker: The Other Afghan Women – Anand Gopal

September 6, 2021   | 

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/13/the-other-afghan-women 

 

“In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claimed to be helping them.”

 

Late one afternoon this past August, Shakira heard banging on her front gate. In the Sangin Valley, which is in Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan, women must not be seen by men who aren’t related to them, and so her nineteen-year-old son, Ahmed, went to the gate. Outside were two men in bandoliers and black turbans, carrying rifles. They were members of the Taliban, who were waging an offensive to wrest the countryside back from the Afghan National Army. One of the men warned, “If you don’t leave immediately, everyone is going to die.”

Shakira, who is in her early forties, corralled her family: her husband, an opium merchant, who was fast asleep, having succumbed to the temptations of his product, and her eight children, including her oldest, twenty-year-old Nilofar—as old as the war itself—whom Shakira called her “deputy,” because she helped care for the younger ones. The family crossed an old footbridge spanning a canal, then snaked their way through reeds and irregular plots of beans and onions, past dark and vacant houses. Their neighbors had been warned, too, and, except for wandering chickens and orphaned cattle, the village was empty.

Shakira’s family walked for hours under a blazing sun. She started to feel the rattle of distant thuds, and saw people streaming from riverside villages: men bending low beneath bundles stuffed with all that they could not bear to leave behind, women walking as quickly as their burqas allowed.

The pounding of artillery filled the air, announcing the start of a Taliban assault on an Afghan Army outpost. Shakira balanced her youngest child, a two-year-old daughter, on her hip as the sky flashed and thundered. By nightfall, they had come upon the valley’s central market. The corrugated-iron storefronts had largely been destroyed during the war. Shakira found a one-room shop with an intact roof, and her family settled in for the night. For the children, she produced a set of cloth dolls—one of a number of distractions that she’d cultivated during the years of fleeing battle. As she held the figures in the light of a match, the earth shook.

Around dawn, Shakira stepped outside, and saw that a few dozen families had taken shelter in the abandoned market. It had once been the most thriving bazaar in northern Helmand, with shopkeepers weighing saffron and cumin on scales, carts loaded with women’s gowns, and storefronts dedicated to selling opium. Now stray pillars jutted upward, and the air smelled of decaying animal remains and burning plastic.

In the distance, the earth suddenly exploded in fountains of dirt. Helicopters from the Afghan Army buzzed overhead, and the families hid behind the shops, considering their next move. There was fighting along the stone ramparts to the north and the riverbank to the west. To the east was red-sand desert as far as Shakira could see. The only option was to head south, toward the leafy city of Lashkar Gah, which remained under the control of the Afghan government.

The journey would entail cutting through a barren plain exposed to abandoned U.S. and British bases, where snipers nested, and crossing culverts potentially stuffed with explosives. A few families started off. Even if they reached Lashkar Gah, they could not be sure what they’d find there. Since the start of the Taliban’s blitz, Afghan Army soldiers had surrendered in droves, begging for safe passage home. It was clear that the Taliban would soon reach Kabul, and that the twenty years, and the trillions of dollars, devoted to defeating them had come to nothing. Shakira’s family stood in the desert, discussing the situation. The gunfire sounded closer. Shakira spotted Taliban vehicles racing toward the bazaar—and she decided to stay put. She was weary to the bone, her nerves frayed. She would face whatever came next, accept it like a judgment. “We’ve been running all our lives,” she told me. “I’m not going anywhere.”

The longest war in American history ended on August 15th, when the Taliban captured Kabul without firing a shot. Bearded, scraggly men with black turbans took control of the Presidential palace, and around the capital the austere white flags of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan went up. Panic ensued. Some women burned their school records and went into hiding, fearing a return to the nineteen-nineties, when the Taliban forbade them to venture out alone and banned girls’ education. For Americans, the very real possibility that the gains of the past two decades might be erased appeared to pose a dreadful choice: recommit to seemingly endless war, or abandon Afghan women.

This summer, I travelled to rural Afghanistan to meet women who were already living under the Taliban, to listen to what they thought about this looming dilemma. More than seventy per cent of Afghans do not live in cities, and in the past decade the insurgent group had swallowed large swaths of the countryside. Unlike in relatively liberal Kabul, visiting women in these hinterlands is not easy: even without Taliban rule, women traditionally do not speak to unrelated men. Public and private worlds are sharply divided, and when a woman leaves her home she maintains a cocoon of seclusion through the burqa, which predates the Taliban by centuries. Girls essentially disappear into their homes at puberty, emerging only as grandmothers, if ever. It was through grandmothers—finding each by referral, and speaking to many without seeing their faces—that I was able to meet dozens of women, of all ages. Many were living in desert tents or hollowed-out storefronts, like Shakira; when the Taliban came across her family hiding at the market, the fighters advised them and others not to return home until someone could sweep for mines. I first encountered her in a safe house in Helmand. “I’ve never met a foreigner before,” she said shyly. “Well, a foreigner without a gun.”

Shakira has a knack for finding humor in pathos, and in the sheer absurdity of the men in her life: in the nineties, the Taliban had offered to supply electricity to the village, and the local graybeards had initially refused, fearing black magic. “Of course, we women knew electricity was fine,” she said, chuckling. When she laughs, she pulls her shawl over her face, leaving only her eyes exposed. I told her that she shared a name with a world-renowned pop star, and her eyes widened. “Is it true?” she asked a friend who’d accompanied her to the safe house. “Could it be?”

Shakira, like the other women I met, grew up in the Sangin Valley, a gash of green between sharp mountain outcrops. The valley is watered by the Helmand River and by a canal that Americans built in the nineteen-fifties. You can walk the width of the dale in an hour, passing dozens of tiny hamlets, creaking footbridges, and mud-brick walls. As a girl, Shakira heard stories from her mother of the old days in her village, Pan Killay, which was home to about eighty families: the children swimming in the canal under the warm sun, the women pounding grain in stone mortars. In winter, smoke wafted from clay hearths; in spring, rolling fields were blanketed with poppies.

Our Hearts are Weary ~ September 11 Madison Action

MOBILIZATION AGAINST MILITARISM

Sept. 11, 2021

Downtown Madison Farmer’s Market

On Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, our hearts are weary after at least 20 years of the “forever wars” and skyrocketing Pentagon budgets.  So many innocent children, women, and men have been killed, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and so many other places in the Middle East and Africa.  And we are no closer to bringing peace.  War WAS NOT the answer!


End the ever-increasing military profiteering

End the violations of human rights, natural rights and legal rights


8:00 am – noon:  FLY KITES, NOT DRONES Join us at King St. corner of the square. The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice table will have kites, leaflets, buttons, and other information.

10:00 am:   ALL ARE WELCOME AS WE gather for a rally outside Senator Baldwin’s office at 30 West Mifflin St. (near the State St. corner of the square).

Speakers include: 

Bonnie Block activist and rebel with Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars

Vicki Berenson, human being for peace and justice, WNPJ, Friends, Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin Coalition 

Allen Ruff, historian, concerned citizen and activist 

 

Senator Baldwin, stop voting for the War Machine, fund human needs, and lead us to a peace economy!

The U.S. government spends more on the military than the next top eleven countries combined.  And we are no closer to bringing peace!

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program, one of the biggest boondoggles in military history, are looking to come to Madison.  And we are no closer to bringing peace!

As we move closer and closer to ecocide, the military remains the biggest source of pollution on earth.  And we are no closer to bringing peace!

Suicide, PTSD, and moral injury is a huge problem for our veterans who have been emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually damaged from our wars.  And we are no closer to bringing peace!

Senator Tammy Baldwin, along with so many other Democrats and Republicans, does not represent our desire to bring an end to the “forever wars”.  We have no party for peace.  We only have a War Party!  Sen. Baldwin actively worked to bring the F-35s to Madison, she does not provide strong support for policies to make the world green, she backs economic policies that support militarism, and she continues to vote for the obscene military budget.

 

We have had enough of these crimes and injustice.   Senator Baldwin needs to be a strong leader for the people.  She needs to stand up to the War Party!

There will be a nonviolent civil resistance action in front of Baldwin’s office.  If you are interested or want more information, contact joyfirst5@gmail.com

 

Sponsored by:  Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars

If you would like your group to co-sponsor, contact joyfirst5@gmail.com

Milwaukee Area Water Poisoned by Military PFAS Forever Chemicals

original article Laura Schulte

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1 Sep 2021

‘Forever chemicals’ from a military installation at Mitchell Airport are a risk to nearby drinking wells, Lake Michigan, a report says

also PFAS Timeline and History – EWG

“Despite testing that found “forever chemicals” at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport two years ago, the Department of Defense has yet to move forward with a plan to address the contamination, putting nearby residents with private drinking wells at risk.

The Department of Defense was notified by the state Department of Natural Resources that it was the responsible party for contamination from PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in ground and surface water near the airport in 2019, but no action has yet been taken, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.

The environmental advocacy group looked at publicly available data related to PFAS testing at DOD sites across the Great Lakes region and found that several sites, including Mitchell Airport, could be contaminating not only groundwater but the lakes that give the area its name.

 

Some of the highest levels of the chemicals were found in private drinking wells along the borders of the Milwaukee airport, said Jared Hayes, a policy analyst with the Environmental Working Group. And because no aggressive action has been taken since the discovery of the compounds, some residents in the area may not even know they’re at risk.

 

The department ordered that the airport needed to determine the source of the contamination, prevent future discharges and develop a cleanup plan. At the time, levels were not high enough to be considered a public health concern, but the department wanted the water utility to monitor levels.

Included in the testing results in 2019 were about six compounds, including PFOA and PFOS, two of the most researched PFAS chemicals.

Though recommendations at the time called for wastewater utilities to start measuring for PFAS, no such rules have yet been instituted, because the utilities are not the source of chemicals but merely a receiver as the chemicals are washed down drains across the state.

Milwaukee isn’t the only city to face a PFAS contamination stemming from its airport. In Madison, contamination stemming from the Dane County Regional Airport — where the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard is stationed — has been linked to high levels of PFAS in a nearby lake and some nearby wells.

On French Island, which is home to the La Crosse Regional Airport on one side and the Town of Campbell on the other, over a thousand people are receiving bottled water after PFAS were found in private drinking water across the island. Research into the airport’s past has shown that ongoing testing of PFAS-containing firefighting foam and foam used to put out blazes caused by plane crashes are likely responsible for most of the contamination.

PFAS are a family of man-made chemicals used for their water- and stain-resistant qualities in products like clothing and carpet, nonstick cookware, packaging and firefighting foam. The family includes 5,000 compounds, which are persistent, remaining both in the environment and the human body over time.