By Shereen Siewert
3M, which operates a plant on Wausau’s near west side, is ranked as the 67th worst polluter in the nation, according to an annual list compiled by the Political Economy Research Institute.
The company’s Wausau location, at 144 E. Rosencrans St., scores particularly high in toxic emissions and is listed as the top polluter of all the company’s locations nationwide, based on the facility’s toxic score.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Ashley Gray said the department is looking into the issue but has no comment at this time.
The Toxic 100 Air Polluters Index ?report, released in July, ranks 3M as the nation’s 67th worst polluter. The company’s Wausau location is ranked the top air polluter of all the company’s locations nationwide. The rankings are based on 2017 data and are updated each year.
The company’s Wausau facility received 3M’s highest toxicity score at 156,180, which matches data from the Environmental Protection Agency. The toxicity score is based on the amount of chemical released, the degree of toxicity, and the size of the exposed population, according to the EPA. The scores highlight releases that would potentially pose greater risk over a lifetime of exposure.
The report also includes environmental justice indicators? showing companies’ pollution burden on minority and low-income communities. For example, Wausau’s minority population is 18.41 percent, but minorities bear 31.3 percent of the air-toxics risk from Wausau’s 3M facility, the report states. The Wausau facility’s score accounted for about 45 percent of the overall toxicity score for the company.
Citizens for a Clean Wausau issued a statement Tuesday regarding the PERI report.
“In our opinion, this high ‘Toxic Score’ in the PERI data for the 3M plant in the Thomas Street neighborhood should be a red flag, indicating a potentially problematic situation that warrants a thorough study,” the group stated. “These statistics confirm and magnify the validity of citizens’ ongoing concerns about toxic pollution in the Thomas Street neighborhood.”
Nationwide, 3M has been fined $2,582,710 for environmental violations since 2000, according to Good Jobs First, a national policy research center.
“The Toxic 100 and Greenhouse 100 inform consumers, shareholders, regulators, lawmakers, and communities which large corporations release toxic and climate-altering pollutants into our environment,” said Professor James Boyce, co-director of PERI’s Corporate Toxics Information Project.
“We assess not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic. People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents.”
Fanna Haile-Selassie, external communications manager for 3M in Minnesota, said the company has a longstanding commitment to sustainability.
“We build sustainability into the core of our purpose as a company, which impacts our operations, our customers, our suppliers and our communities,” Haile-Selassie said. “An example of our record on sustainability goes as far back as 1975 with 3M’s groundbreaking Pollution Prevention Pays program. Since then, we have prevented 2.5 million tons of waste from going into landfills and saved $2.2 billion. We intend to build on our progress, and our 2025 Sustainability goals reflect holistic thinking about how our products can improve the world and affect every life.”
Safety data sheets for roofing products produced in Wausau, posted on the company’s website, include warnings that the materials used “may cause cancer” and “causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure” to the respiratory system.
The company has been repeatedly under fire both in Wausau and in other states where they operate. In February, the company settled a contentious lawsuit in Minnesota after agreeing to give the state $850 million to resolve the largest environmental lawsuit in the state’s history. The lawsuit, which arose amid allegations of decades-long contamination of groundwater in the Minneapolis area, was settled one day before a trial was set to begin.
Once named the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, 3M has been operating in Wausau since 1929 and employs about 150 people. The Wausau plant is the company’s oldest operating manufacturing facility in the world.
Top photo: 3M’s Wausau location, courtesy of Citizens for a Clean Wausau