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3M Plant Workers More Likely to Die of Prostate Cancer, Stroke

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Exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical which has been shown to cause liver, pancreatic and testicular cancer in laboratory animals, among workers at a 3M plant in Minnesota may have made it more likely that those workers would die from stroke or prostate cancer.

A resent study concluded that a high or moderate PFOA exposure work history, compared to only working in low exposure jobs, was associated with an increased risk of death by stroke and prostate cancer. The association between prostate cancer and exposure to PFOA was similar to research conducted by others in 1993. That study found that those who worked for 10 years in the chemical division at the Cottage Grove plant had three times more prostate cancer deaths than those who worked for a decade in nonchemical areas there.

Among the 3M workers studied, about 12 percent of them had definite exposure to PFOA through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. The rest were evenly divided between those who probably had some exposure to it, and those who had no exposure. Researchers studied death certificates for workers through Dec. 31, 2002

The new PFOA study, financed by 3M and conducted by Bruce Alexander, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist, was completed in August 2007. However, it was not submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) until last month. This latest study looked at 4,000 people who worked at the 3M Cottage Grove plant between 1943 to 1997. The study found elevate rates of prostate cancer and stroke among workers at the 3M plant who were exposed to PFOA. Workers with the highest exposures were twice as likely to die of prostate cancer and stroke than colleagues with little or no exposure to the chemical, the study found.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, PFOA is more than a concern for 3M workers. According to the newspaper, community and private wells in nearby communities were contaminated with the PFOA, likely from wastes that 3M sent to dumps in those areas decades ago. 3M has paid for one community to install a huge water filtration system to remove all PFOA, and for more than 200 private wells in another town to be hooked up to untainted city water.

3M made PFOA from 1947 to 2000 at its Cottage Grove plant and phased out production by 2002. It was used for nonstick cookware, stain-repellent coatings and dozens of other products. Because of concerns over the health effects of PFOA exposure, 3M started monitoring the health of its employees who worked with the chemical. In 1980, 3M conducted the first occupational mortality study of its workers, and the company has maintained that its workers at Cottage Grove showed no ill effects resulting from PFOA exposure.

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