Toxic Traces

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3M announced in 2000 that it was phasing out its popular Scotchgard product, because the anti-stain spray contained chemicals toxic to lab animals. The chemicals had also turned up in the blood of 3M workers, though the company said its employees were not harmed.

3M produced the chemicals at its plant in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. An investigation by Minnesota Public Radio and American RadioWorks found that even after 3M said it would no longer make the toxic chemicals, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency let two years pass before it began any inquiries.

The story raises questions about who is responsible for the safety of the public and the environment, and about whether state agencies are doing enough to protect citizens from toxic chemicals.

the science

Go to story Document The chemistry of Scotchgard
Until 2000, 3M was the sole manufacturer of the perfluorinated chemicals used in Scotchgard and DuPont's Teflon. Those chemicals stay in the environment, and have contaminated drinking water in at least one Minnesota city.
the neighbors

Go to story Document Questions from the community
Before there was an MPCA or a Superfund cleanup program, people who lived near 3M's Cottage Grove plant and its nearby landfill in Woodbury had questions about their safety.
the politics

Go to story Document MPCA: "Not a research agency"
A respected MPCA scientist clashes with her bosses over what the agency should do about perfluoronated chemicals.
the company
Go to story Document 3M's handling of the situation
Much of what is known about perfluorochemicals comes from manufacturers like 3M, which has researched them for years. 3M is facing several lawsuits over contamination.

the future

Go to story Document What happens next?
The research into perfluorochemicals is being ramped up, even as thousands of other such substances remain unregulated and unstudied.
Go to story Document The long reach of perfluorochemicals
These chemicals are widespread around the world, found in the U.S. blood supply, the blood of 3M plant workers, as well as fish, birds and animals living far from chemical factories.

It's been 50 years since Scotchgard came on the market, and five years since it was removed. In between are many milestones to mark the spread, and study, of perfluorochemicals.
Document See highlights of that history.


The 3M plant and the landfills in question are located in Washington County, on the east side of the Twin Cities metro area. Image See a map of the area.

reporter's notebook

This story came about as a result of two tips picked up by Sasha Aslanian of American RadioWorks. It's a highly charged issue, as she and Mike Edgerly discovered during the course of their reporting.
Document Read Sasha's observations.


Has the discovery of perfluorochemicals in drinking water in the east metro touched your family? If so, how? Have you changed your water consumption because of the discovery of perfluorochemicals?
Document Share your thoughts.

Document Read what others are saying.


Various state and federal agencies have collected information about perfluorochemicals.
Document See a list of resources and links.


Producers: Mike Edgerly, Sasha Aslanian
Editors: Catherine Winter, Stephen Smith
Executive Producer: Bill Buzenberg
Online Editor: Melanie Sommer
Web design: Ben Tesch
Audio Engineer: Craig Thorson
Researcher: Betsy Cole Production assistance: Melody Ng, Nate Hall, Ben Schmidt, Marta Berg and Alex McCrae