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'Forever chemicals' search expands to 379 facilities across Minnesota

PFAS are a group of more than 5,000 chemicals used in products such as nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers, pizza boxes and cosmetics such as eyeliner and foundation. Increasing evidence suggests they are harmful to humans and the environment.

St Louis River.JPG
While health experts are advising people to limit meals of Lake Superior smelt to once monthly due to PFAS contamination, fish in some lakes and rivers in Michigan have such high levels of PFAS that the state warns against eating any fish at all.
Contributed / Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Tuesday, March 22, released a list of 379 facilities it will survey for emissions of “forever chemicals” that have become of increasing public health and environmental concern in recent decades.

The monitoring plan is the latest step in the state’s strategy to address PFAS contamination and comes one year after Minnesota pollution control officials first released their plan to address the issue .

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are a group of more than 5,000 chemicals used for their non-stick and water-resistant properties. PFAS are used in a wide variety of products, and are known as "forever chemicals" because they don’t break down in the environment and can accumulate in the tissue of living things. The pollution control agency said the need for expanded statewide monitoring became particularly apparent after it listed several Greater Minnesota lakes and streams contaminated with the chemicals for the first time in 2021.

PFAS are found in air emissions from industry as well as soil and groundwater across the state, pollution control Commissioner Katrina Kessler said. Her agency warned last year that nearly every closed landfill in the state is leaking PFAS into groundwater sources. More than half of the 110 landfills monitored by the agency caused unsafe levels of drinking water contamination in 41 counties.

The new PFAS monitoring list includes 137 manufacturing and industrial facilities, eight regional airports in Greater Minnesota, 91 wastewater treatment plants and 143 landfills, recycling facilities and composting centers. Pollution control officials are asking the facilities to conduct sampling and report back to the state by the end of 2023. Inclusion on the list means the facility could potentially be emitting PFAS into the environment and does not mean the facility is a confirmed emitter, officials said.

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Regional airports on the list include Bemidji, Brainerd, Duluth, Rochester and Thief River Falls. These airports are required to keep PFAS containing firefighting foam on site. Municipal wastewater treatment plants on the list include the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District as well as plants in Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Rochester, Two Harbors and Worthington.

Over recent decades, peer-reviewed studies have shown that exposure to PFAS could be linked to decreased fertility or high blood pressure in pregnant women, low birth weights, hormonal interference, reduced vaccine response, as well as a heightened risk of prostate, kidney and testicular cancer.

Minnesota banned the use of PFAS in food wrappers in 2021, and multiple bills before the Legislature seek to expand the ban to cosmetics, cookware and ski wax. Gov. Tim Walz has asked the Legislature to provide more than $2.6 million to address PFAS contamination across the state.

In March 2021, Minnesota-based 3M agreed to pay the city of Bemidji $12.5 million to build and support a new water treatment facility after the city found PFAS in its water supply. The contamination was linked to fire extinguishing foam used by local fire departments training at the regional airport.

The same year, 3M also agreed to an $850 million settlement with the state of Minnesota after the state sued the company alleging its manufacturing of PFAS had damaged water and natural resources in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. About $720 million of that settlement will go toward drinking water and natural resource programs in the eastern metro.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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