On Tuesday, a trial over Minnesota's $5 billion lawsuit against manufacturer 3M Company—the biggest environmental lawsuit in state history—was set to begin with jury selection.
But on that very same day, the Maplewood-based manufacturer agreed to an $850 million settlement, finally putting an end to eight years of litigation over the water pollution case.
The lawsuit was originally filed by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson back in 2010, claiming 3M contaminated the state's water supply from 1950 until the early 2000s by dumping millions of pounds of waste into the ground and the Mississippi River from the production of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, that the company used in its lines of nonstick products such as Scotchgard.
The manufacturing conglomerate "knew or should have known" the toxic chemicals posed a risk to drinking water, harmed wildlife and human health long before stopping its production in 2002, officials said.
The Minnesota Department of Health says higher levels of PFCs in a person's body are associated with higher cholesterol, changes to liver function, reduced immune response, thyroid disease, and kidney and testicular cancer.
Under the settlement, 3M will provide an $850 million grant aimed at improving "water quality and sustainability."
The money will be paid for projects that safeguard drinking water in the East Metro.
"This money is dedicated to fixing the problem," Swanson said at a news conference in Minneapolis. "This was hard-fought litigation."
The company denies any wrong-doing and insists it disposed the chemicals legally at the time. The settlement does not require an admission of liability.
"We are proud of our record of environmental stewardship, and while we do not believe there is a PFC-related public health issue, 3M will work with the state on these important projects," John Banovetz, 3M's chief technology officer, said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
As Minnesota Public Radio reported, many Minnesotans and folks around the U.S. were eagerly awaiting the trial to begin, as it could have "set a precedent as 3M faces at least two dozen lawsuits related to PFCs around the country."
News of the agreement was celebrated by Erin Brockovich, famed environmental activist and fighter for clean water.
"This pathetic polluter knew the evidence against them was damning ... and they settled!" she wrote on Facebook. "There isn't enough money in the world to compensate for the lives they have damaged ... or the costs consumers face nationwide to clean up their pollution. 3M fought for almost a decade ... spending hundreds of millions on lawyers to dodge their way around the law ... but today became their day of reckoning!"
Lawsuit Filed Against 3M for Dumping Toxic Chemicals Into the Tennessee River https://t.co/o8yLHwjXLN @americanrivers @rivernetwork— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1467078614.0
Perfluorinated chemicals, also known as PFASs or PFCs, are used to make everyday items—such as food wrappers, textiles, pots and pans—repel water and grease. But these chemicals have been linked to a host of health problems, including high cholesterol, hormone disruption and even kidney and testicular cancer.
Now, researchers at Harvard University found evidence that the environmentally persistent chemicals—found in the drinking water of more than six million Americans—may play a role in weight gain, especially for women.
PFAS are already a class of suspected "obesogens," which the National Institutes of Health describes as endocrine disruptors that may increase fat storage capacity or the number of fat cells, thus making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
While obesogens have been linked with excess weight gain and obesity in animal models, human data has been sparse, explained senior author Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University.
"Now, for the first time, our findings have revealed a novel pathway through which PFASs might interfere with human body weight regulation and thus contribute to the obesity epidemic," said Sun in a statement to EcoWatch.
For the study, published Tuesday in PLOS Medicine, the researchers examined the effects of energy-restricted diets on 621 overweight and obese participants aged 30 to 70 years. Body weight was measured at baseline and then at 6, 12, 18 and 24 months.
The participants lost an average of 14 pounds of body weight during the six-month weight-loss period and then regained an average of six pounds of body weight during the 18-month weight regain period.
Blood examinations showed that the participants who gained the most weight after dieting had higher baseline levels of PFASs, especially women. Women with the highest PFAS levels re-gained about four pounds more than those with the lowest PFAS levels.
"These chemicals may lead to more rapid weight gain after dieting," Sun told the Guardian. "It is very hard to avoid exposure to PFASs, but we should try to. It's an increasing public health issue."
"The sex-specific difference did surprise us a little bit," he told TIME. "But we also know that PFAS can interfere with estrogen metabolism and functioning, so this may be why we see this observation mostly in women."
The study also found that higher blood concentration of PFASs were associated with lower resting metabolic rates.
"People with lower metabolic rates are more likely to accumulate a lot of fat in the body, so this may be a very important part of the problem," Sun explained to TIME.
The findings suggest that overweight and obese individuals with relatively low PFAS exposures might potentially benefit more from weight-loss interventions.
Despite some of the harmful health effects of PFASs, the paper notes that the production of some PFASs may continue or even increase, especially in developing countries.
"Given the persistence of these PFASs in the environment and the human body, their potential adverse effects remain a public health concern," the authors said.
Warning: Food Wrappers Still Coated in Cancer-Causing Chemical https://t.co/zoJxMexSEG @ecoliving @Earth911— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486177218.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Leslie Hsu Oh
Winter gear earned a bad rep in the early 2000s. Scientists discovered that the perfluorocarbon chemicals (PFCs) present in synthetic waterproofing materials were not only linked to cancer and infertility, but could also take more than four years to flush out of winter-coat-wearers' tissues. What's more, PFCs' persistent residues pose a grave threat to our waterways.
Luckily, many among today's outdoor adventure brands have worked hard to develop waterproof alternatives and to establish better manufacturing practices. Textile manufacturers are increasingly working to reduce their carbon footprints and hazardous waste output and adhering to the standards designated by Bluesign—a certifying body that rates materials on their resource productivity, consumer safety, water emissions, air emissions and occupational health and safety factors.
Just last month, snowboard manufacturer/outdoor adventure outfitter Burton announced goals for 2020, which include manufacturing all soft goods from 100-percent-Bluesign-approved materials, 100-percent-sustainable cotton, 50-percent-recycled polyester and 100-percent-PFC-free materials; diverting 75 percent of its waste from landfills; and reducing its carbon footprint by 20 percent. For an avid snowboarder and mother of four slopes-loving adventurers, the forward momentum has been buoying. Here's a snapshot of some of my family's go-to eco-gear for winter.
Boards and Bindings
Mervin Manufacturing labels all its Lib Tech, Gnu and Roxy boards (for surf, snow and skate, respectively) with a loud neon green sticker that reads, in all caps, "The World's Most Environmental Board Factory Built With Wind and Water Generated Power in Washington State, USA, Zero Hazardous Waste." Mervin uses vegetable-oil-based plastics, renewable wood, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) resin systems, and no solvents, plus recycled, FDA-approved sidewalls. And its water-based sublimation system keeps thousands of pounds of plastic off cuts (the parts that get trimmed during production) out of landfills each year. This is because the cuts from Mervin's manufacturing process, along with wood scraps, can be recycled. Best of all, all Mervin boards are hand-built by snowboarders, skateboarders and surfers. Female snowboarder Barrett Christy, a member of the first U.S. snowboarding team during the 1998 Winter Olympics (and currently a member of Mervin's product design and marketing team), personally selected the GNU Zoid directional asym board ($600) for my specific riding experience and style.
At Blue Mountain Resort, which is home to Pennsylvania's highest vertical, the Zoid cut through corduroy, powder and even chunder like butter (learn more about the nuances of adventure snow terminology here). The board's Magne-traction, which offers steak-knife-like serrated edges, crushed ice to powder, too. No matter how recklessly I went into a turn, I never washed out. Asymmetry on the board's horizontal and vertical axis means the toe-side edge is longer than the heel-side, a unique feature that enabled me to execute some sick carves—I could even graze my cheek against the surface of the snow.
My husband, Thomas, prefers the Backwoods splitboard ($600) from Weston Snowboards for its maneuverability on fresh powder. A wide nose and narrow tail keeps you afloat and able to nimbly navigate through trees. Weston is another U.S.-based snowboard manufacturer dedicated to protecting the environment. Just this month, the company, along with the National Forest Foundation and other outdoor brands, launched the Freedom of the Forest campaign to raise funding for the U.S. Forest Service. To avoid toxins, Weston uses sintered sidewalls—which stabilize skis or boards, lending more "pop out" of turns and the ability to handle impacts on rails or boxes—rather than traditional ABS sidewalls. Weston Snowboards co-owner Mason Davey reported that the company does not use any VOCs in its epoxy (glue) and added, "We may be the only company utilizing UV inks and clear coats via direct digital printing." Weston boards' core is made from sustainably farmed poplar and bamboo, and much of the board is made from recycled materials.
Waxing the base of your board or ski protects it from drying out and makes you go faster. After learning that most wax contains harmful toxins—it's typically rife with PFCs, petrochemicals and fluorocarbons, which can get into our bloodstream and seeps into waterways—my family started waxing our boards with more ecofriendly wax from BeaverWax (starts at $33 for a pack of three) or Purl (starts at $10). BeaverWax is hand-poured in Vancouver, British Columbia, and founder Matt Turner reported that the company is working with a new technology that stabilizes organically produced oils by removing the oxygen and recombining the molecules. "This electro-chemical process is designed to minimize environmental impact while creating products superior to those derived from petroleum," he said. Purl wax is made with no fluorocarbons, nor toxic chemicals, and its Team Riders like to melt the blue wax along boards' edges and purple down the middle. (That's what they did before winning last year's Boardercross Nationals.)
Thomas rides with Patagonia's most breathable and stretchable waterproof hardshell, the Descensionist Jacket ($450). He likes to layer it atop his current favorite shirt, the Kennicott Shirt Jac ($97) from Toad&Co. Made from reclaimed Italian wool and blended with polyester and nylon, it feels like cozy pajamas against the skin but looks dressy enough for date night. A scientist, Thomas stays abreast of Toad&Co's social and environmental resources and follows Patagonia's research progress via The Footprint Chronicles and its Cleanest Line blog. Patagonia recently reported that it has "switched from a C8 fluorocarbon-based treatment to a shorter-chain C6 treatment, also fluorocarbon-based, but with byproducts that break down faster in the environment and with less potential toxicity over time to humans, wildlife, and fish."
When I spoke at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in England a few months ago, attendees had the opportunity to test Columbia's new Outdry Ex Eco Down Jacket ($280). It's the first waterproof jacket that features the tough, breathable membrane outside rather than inside. This solves the problem of wet-out, which is when your traditionally treated outer layer loses its water repellency due to abrasions or wear and tear, and the jacket loses its breathability and ability to transmit water vapor. And if a jacket won't wick away your sweat, you're going to end up feeling clammy. I'm thrilled that this jacket solves the problem of getting caught in the rain with a down jacket (they typically end up saturated). Its down is responsibly sourced, and it's dye-free, which saves more than 24 gallons of water per jacket. Plus, each jacket is made from 27 upcycled plastic bottles and 100-percent-recycled fabric and trims.
I like to ride, however, with my warmest and driest jacket: Burton's Gore‑Tex Flare Down Jacket ($690). Not only is it Bluesign-approved, but it's also mapped with 90/10 Ultra-Premium 800 down fill and buttery-soft, down-proof ripstop lining. My favorite features are its wind gasket cuffs and neck gasket.
Hat, Socks and Toys
A product of its eco-centric Backyard Project, The North Face's Cali Wool Beanie ($45) is made from sheep raised according to carbon farming practices. James Rogers, the senior sustainability manager of The North Face, explained, "Through activities at the ranching stage of production, carbon is drawn down into the soil, and we expect to offset the equivalent emissions of 850 cars each year, just for that ranch."
Farm To Feet ($12–$38) knits socks for hiking, running, snow sports and other adventures for men, women and children. The company grows and shears its own merino wool, then processes it all into yarn from within its U.S.-based factory. We all appreciate the socks' extra reinforcements and their natural resistance to odors and bacteria. In fact, we've been able to pass them down from kid to kid, without worrying about holes. The Cottonwood features a 3D Active Knit Technology in the shin, which manages sweat during climbs. The kids' Boulder-NFZ repels mosquitoes and ticks. My personal favorite sock variety, however, is the Damascus, because it boasts top-of-foot cushioning.
For a family-friendly apres-ski activity, our kids recommend the first board game made from 100-percent-recycled fishing nets. Bureo, a company that crafts skateboards out of recycled nets, has collaborated with Jenga to create Jenga Ocean ($50), which helps to teach kids what they can do to prevent plastic pollution in the ocean.
Thomas Oh contributed to the reporting of this article.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
U.S. Air Force Accidentally Spills Massive Amounts of Highly Toxic Chemicals Into Colorado Sewer System
By Andrea Germanos
The U.S Air Force said Tuesday that a Colorado base had released roughly 150,000 gallons of water containing elevated levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) into the Colorado Springs Utilities sewer system and a nearby creek.
Officials at the Peterson Air Force Base, located in Colorado Springs, said an investigation was underway into the discharge from a retention tank, which was discovered Oct. 12. during a routine inspection. The spill happened at some point last week, they said.
The Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, which discharged about 150,00 gallons of PFC-tainted into the local sewer system.Brian Bennett / Flickr
PFCs—found in firefighting foam used by the military—have been linked to adverse health effects including liver damage and development harm.
The Colorado Springs Utilities said the chemicals did not enter the drinking water system, but rather went directly to wastewater.
Utilities spokesperson Steve Berry said that no wastewater plant in the country is equipped to remove PFCs.
"We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent," the Denver Post quotes him as saying.
CBS News adds, "The tainted water passed through a wastewater treatment plant, but the plant isn't set up to remove PFCs, so they were still in the water when it was discharged into Fountain Creek, Berry said."
And that presents a potential problem for farmers like Jay Frost, whose land where organic crops are grown sits below the creek. His family uses the creek water for irrigation and he told local ABC affiliate KRDO that "If we were not able to sell any product from this farm, we would go broke."
"Someone will have to answer to this," he added.
The discharge of the chemical-laden water last week wouldn't be the first time Peterson Air Force Base is under scrutiny for water pollution in the state.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that "The base's use of the firefighting foam containing the chemical is a key suspect in the contamination of wells in Security, Widefield and Fountain that left thousands of residents scrambling for bottled water last summer after the chemical was found at levels that violated standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency."
Further, the Denver Post reports that the discharge "happened as the Air Force increasingly faces scrutiny as a source of groundwater contamination nationwide."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.