Regulators Allege New 3M Wausau Violations: DNR, DOJ, EPA Involvement
Federal data shows “High Priority” Clean Air Act Violations at both 3M Wausau facilities, and a FIFRA violation for “distributing or selling a misbranded pesticide”
Public records indicate that the same 3M facility that received no fines after being investigated by state government in 2016 and 2018 for air pollution violations is facing new violations related to the Clean Air Act (CAA) that go back to the 4th Quarter of 2021. The company also recently received a “Notice of Warning” issued by the EPA for the facility’s “violations of section 12(a)(1)(E) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA),” per the Civil Enforcement Case Report.
It is also the same Wausau facility whose desired industrial expansion onto residentially-zoned property at 1300 Cleveland Avenue has been intensely opposed by residents in the surrounding neighborhoods, but publicly pushed by select officials in City and State government.
At least one of the officials pushing the 3M industrial expansion plan in the largely residential area has taken multiple past campaign contributions from 3M Company, a 2021 Wausau Pilot & Review article reports.
The facility’s environmental problems over many decades have often been of heightened concern specifically because it is located in the middle of a densely populated residential neighborhood. The neighborhood is nearly 50% low income residents and nearly 50% residents of color, according to the EPA’s EJScreen report. The “Cumulative Impacts” of exposures to residents in the neighborhood from pollution from a variety of sources over time has yet to be addressed or assessed by government.
This 3M plant’s extensive environmental history already includes historical spills, among other incidents, some of which led to residual soil contamination in the adjacent neighborhood park or petroleum entering and impacting the Wisconsin River bordering the park. It is currently undertaking DNR-mandated TCE vapor intrusion testing in multiple neighborhood properties and homes because of TCE groundwater contamination associated with its site.
EPA ECHO Specifies “High Priority” Clean Air Act Violations at Both 3M Wausau Facilities and a Formal FIFRA Enforcement Activity at the 144 Rosecrans Street Plant
Per the Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO), both of 3M’s Wausau facilities currently display “High Priority” Clean Air Act Violations. On the website, both facilities also show multiple quarters of “Noncompliance” or “Significant Violations” out of the last 12 quarters of monitoring.
The federal online data further indicates that the 3M facility on Rosecrans Street in Wausau is associated with a 10/26/22 Formal Enforcement Action by the EPA for the FIFRA statute, listing a case number of 05-2023-0183.
The following are links to the EPA ECHO page for each Wausau facility:
3M at 144 Rosecrans Street: https://echo.epa.gov/detailed-facility-report?fid=110000421776
3M at 4099 N 4th Avenue: https://echo.epa.gov/detailed-facility-report?fid=110007332118
DNR Records Allege Multiple 3M Violations of Air Pollution Requirements, Convey that there is an “…ongoing enforcement action that was referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice”
Related records acquired through an Open Records Request submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources detail the DNR’s allegations that 3M violated multiple air pollution regulations at its facility in Wausau’s Thomas Street neighborhood, including:
- Failure to Test for Fugitive Emissions for Processes P30, P32, P33, P34, P39 and P40
- Failure to Report Deviations to the Department
- Failure to Report CAM Excursions in the Semiannual Monitoring Report
- Failure to Update and Carry Out the Malfunction Prevention and Abatement Plan (MPAP)
- Failure to Calibrate Controls Yearly
- Failure to Keep and Maintain Records of Technical Drawings for Stack S64
- Failure to Meet Cooler Water Flowrate
In the DNR’s November 25, 2022 response to the Open Records Request regarding 3M’s air pollution violations, the department states that one record was withheld because it was related to an ongoing enforcement action that was referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice:
“One record was withheld because it includes communications related to civil penalty calculations related to an ongoing enforcement action that was referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The Department of Justice uses these calculations in negotiations before or during litigation. The release of these records would weaken the state’s position while negotiating pending enforcement actions. The penalty calculations have been withheld pursuant to the public records balancing test (Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(a)), as the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of this record and the strength of the state’s negotiating position outweighs the presumption of full disclosure.
Schimel’s DOJ Came Under Criticism for Not Issuing Air Pollution Fines to 3M in Wausau, and Kaul Used this Specific Example While Campaigning in 2018 to Pledge That He Would Be a Different Type of Attorney General
3M’s past violations of air pollution requirements at these same Wausau facilities raised serious statewide scrutiny in the past decade – as noted by two front-page Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative articles – in part and reportedly, because the Wisconsin DOJ, under Attorney General Brad Schimel, allowed 3M to settle the violation matters without paying a fine, “[u]nlike other major pollution cases.”
The lack of fines for 3M in Wausau was considered so significant throughout the state that current Attorney General Josh Kaul actually used the 3M example from Central Wisconsin while running for office in 2018, stating on Facebook in an August 20, 2018 post:
“In 2016, Brad Schimel let 3M off the hook without payment of a fine, and now it’s under investigation again. We need an attorney general who is serious about holding polluters accountable when they break the law.”
Now that the new 3M Wausau air pollution matters have been referred to the Wisconsin DOJ under Kaul, the outcome will determine whether the department’s actions will differ from those under his predecessor in similar situations.
3M Also Receives October 2022 FIFRA “Notice of Warning” Letter from EPA Regarding Wausau Facility and its “distributing or selling a misbranded pesticide”
In addition to the air-related violations involving the Wisconsin DNR and DOJ, a letter sent from the EPA to 3M regarding the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) on October 26, 2022 states:
“…that there is reason to believe 3M Company (3M or you) has committed an unlawful act under Section 12 (a)(1)(E) of FIFRA by distributing or selling a misbranded pesticide.”
The EPA goes on to reference a July 30, 2019 inspection of the Rosecrans Street facility by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (WDATCP) and a WDATCP request for copies of labels pertaining to 3M’s copper granules:
“WDATCP requested copies of labels affixed to the pesticides produced and distributed by the Wausau establishment, ‘3M 6000 Copper Granules,’ EPA Registration Number 10350-526, and ‘3M 7000 Copper Granules,’ EPA Reg. No. 10350-63. The labels of each product failed to identify the name and address of the producer, registrant, or person for whom produced.”
The agency proceeds to communicate:
“The regulation at 40 C.F.R. § 156.10(a)(1)(ii) states that every pesticide product shall bear a label that clearly and prominently shows the name and address of the producer, registrant, or person for whom the pesticide is produced. Section 2(q)(2)(C)(i) defines a pesticide to be “misbranded” if there is not affixed to its container a label bearing the name and address of the producer, registrant, or person for whom produced. The distribution or sale of a misbranded pesticide is a violation of Section 12(a)(1)(E) of FIFRA.”
The letter then states that “Unlawful acts under FIFRA are subject to the civil and criminal penalty provisions at Section 14(a) of FIFRA, 7 U.S.C. § 136l(a)” and requests that 3M inform the EPA “of all corrective actions you have undertaken or will undertake to bring your company into compliance with FIFRA within thirty (30) calendar days of receipt of this Notice of Warning.”
The full FIFRA “Notice of Warning” letter from the EPA to 3M is embedded below. A PDF version can also be reviewed and downloaded here.