When perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were invented in the 1940’s, they offered some amazing properties. In the decades that followed, they were used in firefighting foam, fabric protectants, and nonstick coatings. While these compounds have unique physical characteristics, they also do not break down in the environment, hence the nickname “forever chemicals.” Unfortunately, as our knowledge about these chemicals has grown, it has become increasingly clear that PFAS also harm human health at extremely low levels in the environment. This combination makes PFAS one of the most vexing and challenging chemical pollutants of our time.
Minnesota claims one of the largest PFAS pollution plumes in the U.S. Beginning in the 1950s, 3M manufactured an array of products in the Twin Cities metro area that contained PFAS. 3M disposed of waste from these manufacturing processes at several sites in the east metro, including Maplewood, Lake Elmo, and Cottage Grove. 3M’s PFAS disposal polluted groundwater in an 150 square mile area of the east metro, contaminating the drinking water of 140,000 Minnesotans. PFAS have also been detected in lakes across Minnesota from spills and the use of firefighting foam. The Minneapolis chain of lakes (including Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet) and lakes in St. Louis County and Olmsted County have fish consumption advisories for PFAS contamination. In all, 33 lakes in Minnesota have PFAS related advisories.
In 2018, 3M agreed to pay $850 million to settle legal claims alleged in a lawsuit brought by then Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. The settlement funds are to pay for remediating this pollution. Whether this amount will be sufficient to properly remedy the pollution is unknown.
In 2020, MCEA testified at the Minnesota Legislature in favor of a bill offered by Rep. Steve Sandell (DFL-Woodbury) that would have appropriated money to create a state water quality standard for two of the most common PFAS compounds, known as PFOA and PFOS. In addition, MCEA is studying how to most effectively use the settlement funds to ensure east metro residents have access to clean drinking water.
In late 2020, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the two state agencies entrusted to oversee distribution of the settlement money, proposed three options for remediating the PFAS pollution plaguing the East Metro. MCEA retained two PFAS experts to assist a comment letter MCEA sent to the agencies. In the comment, MCEA implored the agencies to prioritize spending the settlement money to repair the East Metro's drinking water supplies. The emerging science is clear: drinking water contaminated with any amount of PFAS is harmful to human health. The agencies should take every measure to ensure nobody in the East Metro has to continue drinking tap water laced with 3M's chemicals.
Bill introduced to create water quality standard for PFOA/PFOS
While the MPCA designated surface water quality criteria for PFOA and PFOS in 2006, this bill would have created a numerical water quality standard that would be enforceable through Clean Water Act permits. MCEA testifies for the bill, but it does not become law during the 2020 session.
3M, State of Minnesota reach $850 million settlement of suit
The settlement is to pay for the costs of local governments to provide safe drinking water, and to ameliorate the impacts of pollution of lakes and streams.
State of Minnesota sues 3M over PFAS pollution of water
Minnesota, 3M negotiate consent decree for cleanup of 3 PFAS sites
PFAS discovered in drinking water of east metro cities
PFAS found in wells at and near 3M disposal sites in east metro
PFAS found in production well at 3M Cottage Grove facility
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, lacking information about the risk of the compound, asks the Minnesota Department of Health to develop health guidance.
3M phases out use of PFAS
3M announced they had completed phasing out the use of PFAS. They announced their intent to end use of PFAS in 2000.