Minnesota readies high-tech effort to clean up ‘forever chemicals’

Published 2:50 pm Monday, October 31, 2022

By Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio News

State environmental authorities say they will soon deploy new technology to the Twin Cities eastern suburbs to help clean water supplies contaminated for years by so-called “forever chemicals.”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Monday it’s purchased “state-of-the art” machinery designed to remove concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

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The substances are found in a wide variety of industrial uses, firefighting foam and commercial products, including nonstick cookware, carpet, clothing and cosmetics. They don’t break down easily in the environment or the human body and have been linked to cancer and other ills.

They were manufactured in the Twin Cities east metro by 3M, contaminating water supplies in several communities affecting 174,000 residents.

The MPCA said it’s using money from the state’s 2018 settlement with 3M to buy the technology, which turns PFAS into foam that can be separated from the water, then removed. A second process breaks the carbon-fluorine bonds and destroys the PFAS.

Lake Elmo will be the first town to test the high-tech cleanup.

“Lake Elmo has been ground zero for PFAS contamination for years,” Jeff Holtz, a Lake Elmo City Council member, said in a statement, adding the city was happy to partner with the MPCA on the pilot study.

The MPCA said it’s spending $750,000 on the technology.

MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler called the pilot project “the beginning of a new era” for PFAS cleanup in Minnesota. Her agency said it hopes to eventually use the new technology around the state, where PFAS contamination is a growing concern.

Earlier this year, state environmental authorities said nearly 400 wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities, airports and landfills across Minnesota would begin monitoring for PFAS .