State officials identified 80 homes in south Washington County with drinking water containing certain chemical levels that exceed new federal health guidelines.
Those homes in Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, Grey Cloud Island Township and West Lakeland Township will receive bottled water until carbon filtration systems can be installed, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Pollution Control Agency announced Tuesday.
State action follows the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to lower lifetime health advisory levels of two forms of perfluorochemicals to 70 parts per trillion, or one quarter of the existing state health risk level for exposure to the chemicals. The two chemicals are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA).
The east-metro PFC groundwater pollution is linked to 3M, which for decades used the chemicals in some products manufactured at its Cottage Grove plant. The company disposed of waste containing PFCs at landfills near the Cottage Grove-Woodbury border and in Lake Elmo and Oakdale between the 1940s and 1970s. The chemicals polluted groundwater at and around those sites and at 3M-Cottage Grove, near the Mississippi River.
The company has worked with state agencies on a remediation plan at the affected sites since 2002.
The EPA’s new health advisory levels are based on recent studies in lab animals that found lower levels of PFOS and PFOA would better protect developing fetuses and infants, according to the state. Health officials say studies indicate high PFOA and PFOS exposure levels may result in increased risk of adverse developmental effects; testicular and kidney cancer; liver damage and other conditions.
State officials are reviewing data used by the EPA to develop its health advisories. The Health Department is monitoring seven PFCs, including PFOA and PFOS, Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said.
“We’re being as aggressive as we can in trying to identify the health risks of a whole suite of PFCs,” Ehlinger said.
State officials during a media call Tuesday did not break down the number of homes in each community affected by the announcement, but said that information will be on a Health Department featured website accessed from its home page at www.health.state.mn.us.
Letters have been sent to affected households. State officials also are planning an informational meeting.
Residents can opt out of the filtration system but most who are eligible receive it, said Gary Krueger of the Pollution Control Agency. Filtration systems cost just under $2,000 per household; that is paid for through an existing agreement among state agencies and 3M.
Approximately 400 to 500 wells within the east-metro contamination area will be sampled in the coming months, the state agencies reported. Additional drinking water advisories will be issued as needed.
Public drinking water systems already meet the health advisory guidelines, state officials said.
Washington County elected officials expressed frustration by the announcement.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, who authored public health legislation after the PFC contamination was discovered, responded quickly.
“How many more years of research and studies until 3M and some in the press stop saying PFC’s aren’t harmful to human health?” Sieben tweeted.
“This is not a new issue to the area; many of us have been concerned and advocating for more protection of our neighbors and it appears that is finally what is going to happen,” added state Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who represents affected areas. “The source of this contamination isn't a mystery and having all of the homes in the area with filtration shouldn't be a fantasy but a reality.”
Washington County Public Health Director Lowell Johnson discussed the state announcement with county officials Tuesday morning.
“It’s a more protective level,” he said of the lower advisory levels.
Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel called for action.
“If we don’t do something we’re going to be living on filters,” he said.
William Loeffler contributed to this story.