Health department says 22 Minnesota water systems have PFAS above new federal limits

Published 12:33 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

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By Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio News

The Minnesota Department of Health says 17 communities, a veterans’ home and four mobile home parks have levels of so-called “forever chemicals” higher than new federal limits.

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has set enforceable drinking water standards for six PFAS. Water systems will be required to monitor for the chemicals and remove them if they’re above the allowable levels.

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PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are human-made chemicals manufactured since the 1940s. They’re found in a variety of consumer products, including firefighting foam, carpet, stain-resistant clothing and cosmetics.

PFAS don’t break down in the environment, and some are linked to health problems including kidney and liver problems and cancer.

The health department said the communities with PFAS levels above the new standards are Battle Lake, Brooklyn Park, Pine City, Princeton, South St. Paul, Wabasha, Alexandria, Cloquet, Hastings, Lake Elmo, Newport, Pease, Sauk Rapids, Stillwater, Swanville, Waite Park and Woodbury.

The Minnesota Veterans Home in Hastings also is affected, as are mobile home parks in Lake Elmo, Austin, Bemidji and Shakopee. Water systems with PFAS above the new standards will have five years to address the issue and remove the chemicals.

Some of the communities in the east Twin Cities metro area are getting financial help to address their PFAS problem through the state of Minnesota’s $850 million settlement with 3M, which produced the chemicals for decades. But others are not part of that settlement, and face substantial costs to remove the chemicals from their water supplies.

Minnesota clean water advocates and DFL lawmakers are cheering the new federal standards. At a news conference on Wednesday, state Rep. Athena Hollins of St. Paul said the EPA’s action is a vindication of work she and others in Minnesota have been doing to regulate PFAS.

“PFAS is not a future problem,” Hollins said. “It’s something we needed to regulate years ago, and I’m thrilled to see the fed stepping in to take this on.”

Lawmakers passed a sweeping ban last year on the non-essential use of the chemicals. It was named for Amara Strande, who grew up in Oakdale, and died of cancer at age 20.

Her father, Michael Strande, said the EPA’s action will help protect people’s health.

“We thank them for putting human life before the desires of corporations,” he said. “We thank them for giving us the opportunity to live free of these insidiously toxic chemicals.”