When Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were invented in the 1940’s, they were marketed for their desirable chemical properties: heat, water, and oil resistant, and long-lasting. In the decades that followed, PFAS were used in firefighting foam, fabric protectants, nonstick coatings, and eventually found their way into an estimated 9,000-12,000 different products (MN Chamber of Commerce, 2023).
Although PFAS have desirable characteristics in consumer products, they are toxic to human and environmental health. PFAS are linked to a variety of adverse health conditions and illnesses, ranging from cancer to immunocompromising disorders, infant mortality, and chronic liver conditions. Furthermore, these chemicals do not break down naturally in the environment, even over the span of thousands of years, hence their nickname “forever chemicals.” As our knowledge about these chemicals has grown, it has become increasingly clear that PFAS harm human health even at extremely low concentrations.The combination of toxicity and persistence makes PFAS one of the most vexing and dangerous chemical pollutants of our time.
Minnesota is home to one of the largest PFAS pollution plumes in the U.S. That’s because dating back to the 1950s, 3M manufactured an array of PFAS-containing products in the Twin Cities metro area, and then disposed of the related manufacturing waste at several sites in the east metro, including Maplewood, Lake Elmo, and Cottage Grove. 3M’s PFAS disposal polluted groundwater in a 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. In fact, the Minneapolis chain of lakes (including Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet) as well as more than 40 other lakes in St. Louis and Olmsted counties have fish consumption advisories due to PFAS contamination. The PFAS contamination in our groundwater has only worsened over the last few decades as more and more consumer products enter landfills and leak toxic chemicals into the surrounding area. Ninety-eight percent of all closed landfills in Minnesota are leaking PFAS into groundwater (MPCA).
Keenly aware of this problem, MCEA spent the 2023 legislative session working closely with Clean Water Action MN, as well as legislators Rep. Jeff Brand, Rep. Athena Hollins, Rep. Matt Norris, Sen. Judy Seeberger, Sen. Kelly Morrison, and Sen. Heather Gustafson to pass a bill package that would ban all non-essential uses of PFAS in consumer products and requires the disclosure of other uses to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to be available on a public website. MCEA and Clean Water Action also worked closely with the family of Amara Strande, a young woman who grew up in the East Metro and developed a rare cancer. Amara Strande dedicated the end of her life to lobbying for the PFAS ban, and tragically died four days before the bill passed the Senate Floor. The law was subsequently named Amara’s Law before its final passage on May 19th, 2023.
More needs to be done. In addition to source reduction laws that will help to “turn off the tap” on PFAS production by manufacturers, the next critical step is to ensure that we use our bedrock environmental laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, to remediate the PFAS that is already in the environment. Towards that end, MCEA submitted a comment to the EPA in support of proposed drinking water regulations for PFAS, and has begun advocacy work around PFAS contamination from wastewater treatment plants and biosolids.
Wastewater treatment plants are one of the the primary point sources for PFAS contamination in our waterways, because they collect and process wastewater from industrial users that are themselves suspected dischargers of PFAS. Furthermore, many wastewater treatment plants in Minnesota use one of the products of the wastewater treatment process – biosolids – to apply as fertilizer on agricultural fields across the state. When the wastewater is contaminated with PFAS, so are the biosolids, and this practice has been tied to the widespread contamination of cropland soils and groundwater with toxic PFAS.
MCEA has, and will continue, to be at the forefront of PFAS source reduction and remediation in Minnesota. We have the subject matter expertise and legal resources to play a key role in state rulemaking connected to PFAS, and to push for accelerated state or federal action when we feel that the response has been inadequate to the severity of the problem. We carry out this work to protect Minnesota’s land, waters, and wildlife from PFAS contamination, and to protect Minnesota’s communities from further damage caused by the toxic effects of PFAS on human health.
Every single person in this room likely has PFAS in their blood that will never leave their body. Not a single strain of PFAS has been proven to be safe.
—MCEA’s Legislative Director Andrea Lovoll testifying at the MN legislature
MCEA publishes PFAS Wastewater Report
MCEA published a sweeping report on PFAS contamination in our wastewater streams. The report focuses on the prevalence and problems associated with PFAS found in the effluent and biosolids from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), how PFAS travels through the soil where biosolids are land applied and into our waters, and the need to employ pretreatment of industrial wastewater to reduce the PFAS contamination cycle. MCEA worked alongside Dr. Matt Simcik, researcher and professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, to conduct field sampling at WWTPs effluent discharge sites and waters adjacent to lands where biosolids have been applied to illustrate the importance of addressing PFAS contamination in our wastewater streams. The report provides solutions that other states have employed to begin addressing PFAS contamination in biosolids and wastewater as well as recommendations for how Minnesota can take action on PFAS in wastewater streams.
MCEA submits joint comment with CURE to the MPCA
This comment was submitted to MPCA in response to its request for comment to add Water Quality Standards for six PFAS substances in Class 1 Waters. Class 1 waters include both surface and ground waters that supply drinking water to Minnesotans. MCEA and CURE submitted this comment to advocate that MPCA set the most stringent Water Quality Standards possible as we continue to address PFAS contamination in our water supplies.
MCEA submits a joint comment with Clean Water Action MN to the Environmental Protection Agency
The comment is written in support of the EPA setting strong safe drinking water limits for PFAS at the federal level, focusing on the stories and impacts of the forever-chemical on the health and lives of people in Minnesota.
Legislation banning non-essential use of PFAS passes the Minnesota Legislature
MCEA celebrates the passage of Amara’s Law during a press conference with state Legislators. The new law bans non-essential uses of PFAS and requires information disclosure on PFAS in products to the MPCA to be publicly available on a website.
MCEA Urges MPCA to Accelerate PFAS Monitoring at one of the State’s Largest Wastewater Treatment Plant
Certain industrial users use PFAS in part of the industrial process, and wastewater discharged from these facilities often has elevated levels of PFAS that must be addressed in the wastewater treatment process. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is only requiring wastewater treatment facilities to monitor for PFAS at the intake stage. This is a mistake. Monitoring the effluent of these facilities is vital to learning where we are sending our PFAS. MCEA is urging our state regulators to more aggressively monitor for PFAS at permitted facilities throughout the state.
MCEA Testifies in Support of PFAS Legislation
MCEA’s Legislative Director, Water Program Director, and Staff Attorney testified at different House and Senate hearings in support of multiple pieces of Legislation aimed at curbing further PFAS pollution in the state. Andrea Lovoll, Carly Griffith, and Jay Eidsness spoke to lawmakers and the urgency these chemicals demand, and stressed the importance of source reduction at stopping further PFAS contamination throughout Minnesota.
MCEA Hosts Take-Back Event at the Loppet Winter Festival
Until recently, PFAS was a main component in nearly all of the high-performance ski waxes. Thankfully, many races and ski areas ban the use of fluorinated waxes. But lots of skiers have old PFAS ski wax in need of safe disposal. MCEA partnered with an organization to provide safe disposal of ski wax at the Twin Cities’ premier outdoor event of the year, and rallied the public to take action on PFAS legislation working its way through the Legislature.
MCEA Attorney Jay Eidsness Testifies in Favor of PFAS-Ban
The Minnesota House of Representatives is taking up debate on a bill that would ban PFAS in various consumer products, including cookware, cosmetics, and ski wax. “For generations, Minnesotans have applied makeup, cooked food, and skied without introducing toxic and poorly understood synthetic chemicals to our bodies and the environment,” Eidsness said. Measures to restrict the use of PFAS in consumer products is a needed first step in the fight against PFAS because “We cannot clean our way out ot the PFAS problem.”
MCEA Attorney Jay Eidsness Published in the Duluth News Tribune
Published on the weekend of the 2021 fishing opener, MCEA staff attorney Jay Eidsness penned an opinion piece aimed at educating the public about the growing threat of PFAS in our lakes and rivers. At a time when thousands of Minnesotans across the state were casting a line hoping to hook dinner, the article explained why PFAS is not just a problem in the East Metro, and that unless meaningful action is taken, more water bodies will be populated with fish with toxic levels of PFAS in their tissue. Read the article here.
MCEA Recommends PCA Pursue Statewide Standards for PFAS in Fish Tissue
Fishing is synonymous with Minnesota, yet our storied tradition is fundamentally threatened by the growing spread of PFAS in our lakes and rivers. Dozens of waterways are currently listed as impaired for PFAS, and many of these waters are under strict fish consumption limits. In response to this crisis, the Pollution Control Agency is seeking to establish statewide standards for consuming PFOS, one chemical in the PFAS family, in fish tissue. In a comment letter to PCA, MCEA applauded this effort and encouraged the agency to explore setting additional standards for more PFAS chemicals.
MCEA Urges MDH to Adopt Robust Health Risk Limits
In response to the Minnesota Department of Health's announcement of its intention to revise the Health Risk Limits for an array of PFAS compounds, MCEA reminded MDH of its statutory obligation to establish safe drinking water standards based on best available science with a reasonable margin of safety. The pervasiveness and toxicity of PFAS demand an aggressive approach, and MCEA stressed the value of setting exacting standards to allow state regulators to implement best management practices to prevent or minimize the source of PFAS to the extent practicable. Without direct action from the state, PFAS will continue to infect drinking water supplies for thousands of Minnesotans. We cannot allow this to happen.
State agencies release PFAS plan for Minnesota
The Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency release Minnesota’s PFAS Blueprint, a nearly 200 page reference guide that details the scope of PFAS pollution across the state and identifies potential strategies to address it. MCEA was among a small group of environmental organizations asked to review and respond to the document before it’s public release
MCEA staff attorney, Jay Eidsness, testifies at the Capitol
MCEA staff attorney, Jay Eidsness, testifies in favor of House Bill 78. The bill aims to classify PFAS as a hazardous substance under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) and hold polluters financially responsible for cleanup costs.
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.
MCEA Attorney Jay Eidsness speaks with DFL Environmental Caucus
Strong Legislative action is needed to help combat the growing PFAS problem in Minnesota. Since the DFL’s Environmental Caucus helps shape legislative priorities for future sessions, informing this audience about the public-health risks PFAS present is critical to solving this problem.