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Minnesota’s $5 billion case over 3M chemicals heads to trial

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Minnesota officials will soon try to convince a jury that manufacturer 3M Co. should pay the state $5 billion to help clean up environmental damage that the state alleges was caused by pollutants the company dumped for decades.

The long-awaited trial begins Tuesday in Minneapolis. Experts say it could have wide-reaching implications if the state succeeds, in part because 3M and other companies legally dumped the chemicals for years in and outside Minnesota.

The case focuses on the company’s disposal of chemicals once used to make Scotchgard fabric protector and other products. The company denies it did anything wrong or illegal.

The state alleges the chemicals damaged Minnesota’s natural resources, including more than 100 miles of the Mississippi River, and contaminated drinking water, harmed wildlife and posed a threat to human health.

Here are some key details about the fight:

WHAT THE CASE IS ABOUT

The lawsuit focuses on 3M’s disposal of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, and their compounds. The company, which is based in Maplewood, Minnesota, began producing PFCs in the 1950s and legally disposed of them in landfills for decades. Along with Scotchgard, the chemicals were used in fire retardants, paints, nonstick cookware and other products.

The company stopped making PFCs in 2002 after negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the chemicals could pose long-term risks to human health and the environment. But in 2004, trace amounts of the chemicals were found in groundwater near one of 3M’s dumping sites east of St. Paul. The state and 3M reached a deal three years later requiring the company to spend millions to clean up landfills and provide clean drinking water to affected communities.

But it wasn’t until 2010 that the state filed a lawsuit, alleging 3M researched PFCs and knew the chemicals were getting into the environment and posing a threat to human health. After years of delays, jury selection for a trial in state court is set to start this week.

The company has denied it did anything wrong, insisting it was acting legally at the time. In a statement last week, the company said: “3M believes that when we have an opportunity to share all the facts, discuss the science, and present the details of our position to the jury, people will conclude that the company acted responsibly.”

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WHY IT MATTERS

Low levels of PFCs have been found in the environment, humans and wildlife across the globe. At least two dozen lawsuits related to PFCs have been filed against 3M around the country, including one filed last week in Massachusetts over water contamination blamed on firefighting foam.

Experts say the outcome of Minnesota’s case won’t set a nationwide legal precedent for the other cases because the decision would only be applied in Minnesota. But they say there could be a ripple effect and attorneys are watching closely.

David Andrews is a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that conducts research to protect health and the environment. He said the case’s impact would be huge if Minnesota wins and 3M is held accountable.

“The impacts would be enormous just because of the extent of contamination nationwide and how much work still needs to be done to really clean up the mess,” Andrews told The Associated Press.

The company said it has already spent about $100 million on remediation and other projects just in Minnesota to reduce the presence of the chemicals in the environment. The company argues that levels of the chemicals in the environment and in the human body are declining.

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WHAT TO EXPECT AT TRIAL

The trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis. It’s expected to last four to six weeks.

One key issue will be whether 3M’s disposal of the chemicals has increased the rate of certain health issues, including cancer. A state expert is expected to testify that the pollution increased rates of cancer, low birth-weight babies and premature births in affected areas. But the Minnesota Department of Health has found no increase in such rates.

The company says there’s no evidence the chemicals have impacted human health.

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PROBLEMS ELSEWHERE

Since the Minnesota lawsuit was first filed back in 2010, concerns over PFCs have grown. In 2016, the EPA drastically reduced the recommended maximum levels of PFC concentrations for drinking water. As a result, about 15 million people learned their drinking water wasn’t considered safe for long-term consumption. According to 3M, those recommendations are cautionary.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the EPA’s advisory sent communities nationwide scrambling to install technology to treat water. Some of those communities have sued, and some are investigating to determine who or what produced the PFCs in their water, and what, if any, long-term effects they might face due to continued exposure.

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British twin sisters attacked by crocodile while swimming in lagoon in Mexico | UK News

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The Foreign Office has said it is supporting a family after two British sisters were taken to hospital in Mexico after being attacked by a crocodile while swimming in a lagoon at night.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office told Sky News: “We are supporting the family of two British women who are in hospital in Mexico, and are in contact with the local authorities.”

Twins Melissa and Georgia Laurie, 28, were swimming in Manialtepec Lagoon, near Puerto Escondido about 450 miles (724km) southeast of Mexico City.

The women had reportedly been told the water was safe. File pic
Image:
The women had reportedly been told the water was safe. File pic

It is reported that Melissa was dragged under the water by the animal and her sister found her face-down on the surface several minutes later.

The pair’s father Sean Laurie said Georgia tried to bring Melissa back to their boat but the crocodile attacked again.

Mr Laurie told the Daily Mail: “Georgia had to fight it off. She kept punching it in the head.”

Their mother Sue Laurie said both sisters were rushed to hospital after sustaining bite injuries, with Melissa placed into a medically-induced coma.

Mrs Laurie said: “Melissa is alive, but we don’t know if her injuries are life-threatening or not.

“She has water on her lungs and she has been coughing up blood. So we don’t know if she has a punctured lung or not.”

The sisters, who have been backpacking around the world, were visiting the tourist site with a tour company and had reportedly been told it was safe to go in the water.

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Hundreds arrested, guns, drugs and millions in cash seized after joint operation targets organised crime gangs | World News

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More than 200 people suspected of being involved in organised crime have been arrested after police infiltrated an app to access millions of messages about “industrial scale” drug imports and murder plots.

A joint operation between Australia and the FBI, which began in 2018, led to arrests in Asia, South America and the Middle East.

Australian officials said the investigation had “struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world”.

In total, around 3.7 tonnes of drugs were found during the raids Pic: AFP)
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In total, around 3.7 tonnes of drugs were found during the raids (Pic: AFP)

Among those arrested are suspects with links to Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime.

“This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history,” prime minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

Australia did not give any details on arrests in other countries but said Interpol and the FBI would hold news conferences later.

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More than 100 firearms were seized in the raids (Pic: AFP)

The plan saw officials in the US take control of a messaging app called ANOM, which authorities said was popular with organised criminals.

When an Australian underworld figure begun distributing the app to his associates as a secure means to communicate, law enforcement authorities could monitor all their messages.

“We have been in the back pockets of organised crime,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.

“All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered.”

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Officers also recovered almost $35m (£24.7m) in cash (Pic: AFP)

Mr Kershaw said one murder plot involved plans to target a cafe with a machine gun, while a family of five was also targeted.

He added: “Today, Australia is a much safer country because of the extraordinary outcome under Operation Ironside.

“It highlights how devastatingly effective the AFP is when it works with local and global partners, and takes its fight against trans-national organised crime offshore.

“This world-first operation will give the AFP, state and territory police years of intelligence and evidence.

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Officials said the investigation had ‘struck a heavy blow against organised crime’ (Pic: AFP)

“There is also the potential for a number of cold cases to be solved because of Operation Ironside.”

A total of 224 people were arrested and 3.7 tonnes of drugs, 104 firearms as well as almost $35m (£24.7m) in cash were seized.

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World Ocean Day: What is it, why does it matter and how to get involved? | Climate News

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World Ocean Day is celebrated every 8 June as a reminder of how integral our seas are to life on Earth.

A United Nations initiative, Oceans Day was first declared in 1992 following the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, also known as the Earth Summit, which led to important climate change goals.

In 2008, 8 June was officially designated as World Ocean Day, with a different theme each year.

What is World Ocean Day?

The day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the benefits humans get from the ocean and our individual and collective duty to use its resources sustainably.

It is also a chance to celebrate and appreciate what the ocean provides, from the oxygen we breathe to the inspiration it provides artists.

Why does World Ocean Day matter?

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Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet, produce at least 50% of the world’s oxygen, are home to most of the Earth’s biodiversity and are the main source of protein for more than a billion people.

They also absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans – a buffer for the detrimental impacts of global warming.

The UN hopes World Ocean Day will help inform the public of human actions on the ocean and develop a worldwide movement to protect it and unite the world in sustainably managing the oceans.

The world's oceans are home to most of the earth's biodiversity
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The world’s oceans are home to most of the Earth’s biodiversity

What is this year’s theme and what are they hoping to achieve?

The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods is 2021’s World Ocean Day theme.

By 2030, an estimated 40 million people will be employed by ocean-based industries.

But the UN says we are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished, with 90% of big fish populations currently depleted and 50% of coral reefs destroyed.

It says a new balance must be created, “rooted in true understanding of the ocean and how humanity relates to it”.

The aim of the day is to build a connection to the ocean that is “inclusive, innovative and informed by lessons from the past”.

Why is this year particularly important?

It is vital to help protect the ocean every day, but this World Ocean Day comes in the year that the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development begins.

From 2021 to 2030, efforts are being made to use our current knowledge of the oceans better to help politicians and decision-makers choose the best options to save oceans and measure the possible consequences of policies.

Workers offload tuna from a fishing boat in Port Victoria
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90% of big fish populations are currently depleted, the UN says

The decade is also aimed at supporting a sustainable Blue Economy, sharing the responsibility of protecting oceans and at bolstering scientific research and technologies.

It is all part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all UN members to end poverty and other deprivations, reduce inequality, spur economic growth, tackle climate change and preserve our oceans and resources.

Who can get involved?

Everyone!

Science centres, research institutes, governments, NGOs, businesses and communities all around the world are planning local and global events involving millions of people.

But you do not have to be part of a group to get involved.

World Ocean Day is happening virtually for the second year in a row, thanks to the pandemic, meaning anyone can sign up to hear talks.

Last year, 350,000 people watched the programme, while 60 million people were talking about it on social media.

Face mask on beach
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Lockdowns around the world have not stopped pollution in our seas

There will be a wide range of more than 40 people talking, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, actor and environmentalist Gael Garcia Bernal, PhD marine biology student Nicole Yamase, ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, actor and oceans activist Sam Waterstone and Marisa Drew, chief sustainability officer at Credit Suisse.

Events start at 10am EST (3pm UK time) and will end with a virtual Concert for the Ocean from 4.10pm EST (9pm UK time).

You can sign up for the events here.

The Daily Climate Show

Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

Hosted by Anna Jones, it follows Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

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