3M to pay $2.9 million fine after MPCA concludes 2-year investigation

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has completed its investigation into hazard waste violations committed by 3M, with the company being required to pay a fine of nearly $2.9 million. 

The two-year investigation found hazardous violations dating back to 1996 at 3M’s facility in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, the MPCA announced Thursday. 

The MPCA says its investigation found the following:

  • In 1996, 2006, 2012-2014, 2017-2018, and 2020-2021, 3M inaccurately identified hazardous waste sent to its incinerator as non-hazardous waste.
  • Between 2015 and 2020, over the course of 109 weeks, 3M failed to have a certified third-party laboratory independently verify the accuracy of the incinerator laboratory’s analysis, as required by its permit.
  • From 2014 to 2020, 3M failed to conduct verification on more than 1,800 waste stream profiles for mercury, lead, nickel, cadmium, arsenic, and other hazardous materials to ensure the waste did not exceed limits.
  • Since 2016, 3M failed to require two third parties that sent waste to the Cottage Grove incinerator to submit comprehensive data for arsenic, PCBs, lead, mercury and other hazardous materials.
  • 3M stored approximately 1,300 containers of hazardous waste in unapproved areas, 650 of which were stored for longer than the one-year limit.
  • 3M reported six releases from compromised storage containers over a period of six months.

In addition to the monetary penalty, the MPCA says 3M was required to and has completed 24 corrective actions including; "Increasing independent analysis verification with other state-certified labs and waste stream profile verification, increasing independent analysis verification with other state-certified labs and waste stream profile verification, increasing container storage inspections, and Storing hazardous waste in compliance with state rules and its permit, keeping records on site, and evaluating all waste streams generated on site."

3M stored and incinerated hazardous waste at the site until Dec. 31, 2021. 

This May, the MPCA said a separate investigation into the Cottage Grove facility found a container of hydrofluoric acid was releasing gases into the air. 3M failed to immediately notify the MPCA, the agency says, and as a result, unpermitted emissions that can be dangerous to people’s health were released into the air.

3M agreed to pay a $80,000 fine as a result and make some corrective measures. 

3M issued a statement Thursday about the investigation: 

"3M takes its commitment to environmental and regulatory compliance seriously. We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to resolve compliance matters at our Cottage Grove facility that 3M and MPCA identified between 2019 and 2022.  

"These matters were primarily related to waste evaluation and labeling, handling, and storage. Emissions monitoring and testing data indicates that all materials were safely treated at 3M’s incinerator. 

"3M has already taken action to address these matters at MPCA’s direction. We will continue to be a positive presence in the Cottage Grove community."