MN Dept. of Health Doubles Federal Water Protections

The Department acknowledges its new rules are overprotective for most people.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced new limits Thursday for two chemicals present in groundwater, limits half that of current federal standards.

The new guidelines call for no more than 35 parts per trillion of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and no more than 27 parts per trillion for Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). MDH said in its press release that current standards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stand at 70 parts per trillion for both chemicals.

The chemicals are in a category of chemicals called perfluorochemicals (PFC), which were used for several decades in the creation of stain repellants, non-stick cookware, and other products. The 3M Company disposed of PFC wastes in several disposal sites across Washington County. The chemicals leached into the groundwater of a much larger surrounding area.

“Public health and environmental officials have an obligation to use the best available information to protect Minnesotans’ health,” MDH Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said in the press release. “As we get a better understanding of the long-term impacts of these chemicals, we need to update our guidance to enhance the protections that were in place previously.”

MDH scientists lowered the acceptable amount of PFC in drinking water in an attempt to better protect developing infants and young children. The department also notes that drinking water with PFC does not present an immediate health risk, even at the federal guideline levels. New value limits on PFC are designed to reduce longer-term health risks, and are overly protective for most residents out of childhood.

MDH officials have identified about 120 private wells in the East Metro area with water that exceeds the update limits of PFCs. These are primarily contained within parts of Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove that are not served by city water. Additionally Cottage Grove, Oakdale, Woodbury, St. Paul Park, and Bemidji have supplies to their public drinking water systems that are above the new guidelines. These communities have the capability to put into place interim measures that will keep drinking water at or below the new MDH guidelines.

While the Star Tribune’s headline emphasizes 3M’s involvement, they note the company stopped making PFCs in the early 2000s. Other companies only stopped making them in 2015, and only under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency. MDH’s press release mentions 3M only once, regarding the source of the PFCs in the water as coming from 3M’s disposal in legally designated disposal sites for the chemicals.

Anders Koskinen