Agencies look to monitor, reduce PFC levels this spring

Minnesota Department of Health, U.S. EPA and Lake Elmo have plans in the works

If Punxsutawney Phil had come to the east metro on Groundhog Day Feb. 2, he may have predicted six weeks of studies related to perfluorochemical (PFC) groundwater contamination.

While that seems like a pretty specific prediction, this spring, several organizations on the federal, state and municipal level are investigating and hoping to reduce the effects of these chemicals on Washington County residents.

3M manufactured the chemicals at its Chemolite facility in Cottage Grove from the 1940s to 2002 and legally disposed of them in a number of county landfills, including the former Superfund site in Lake Elmo.

A blood study, site review and bonding request, in addition to a state lawsuit against 3M, are all focused on PFCs, which are extremely resistant to environmental breakdown and could cause health concerns such as changes in liver or thyroid functions or tumors, according to the state department of health.

Department of Health blood study

The Minnesota Department of Health will soon start its third study to measure the levels of PFCs in the blood of Washington County residents.

After the groundwater contamination was discovered in 2005, a public health intervention in 2006 installed treatment filters on city water systems and private wells in the area, as well as connecting some residents to city water utilities.

Now, the Department of Health is looking to find out if those methods have decreased the amount of PFCs in individuals who drank from the polluted water supply before the public health intervention.

The study hopes to find answers to two questions, according to a statement from the MDH.

“First: Are PFC levels continuing to go down in a group of long-term East Metro residents who drank contaminated water before the intervention?” the release, dated Feb. 12, says. “Second: In newer Oakdale residents, people who moved to the city after the intervention, are PFC levels comparable to the U.S. general population and are they linked to length of residence in Oakdale?”

The East Metro PFC3 Biomonitoring Project (PFC3) will mail notifications about the study to select Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove residents. To answer the study’s first question, PFC3 will contact previous study participants and ask them to have their blood drawn for testing at the HealthEast clinic in Oakdale.

The second question in the study will be answered by randomly selecting 200 eligible Oakdale residents to complete a short questionnaire and have a small amount of blood drawn for testing, again at the HealthEast clinic in Oakdale. If they so choose, participants can receive the results of the testing.

For more information about the PFC3 biomonitoring study, visit the MDH website at www.health.state.mn.us/biomonitoring.

EPA five-year review

Also related to the groundwater contamination, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to complete its fifth five-year review study of the former Washington County landfill site in Lake Elmo in March. The site, located less than a mile south of Lake Jane, has been cleaned up, and the most recent upgrade by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency relocated the waste to a more protected facility.

The MPCA is responsible for ongoing maintenance of the site.

Residents have the opportunity to express any concerns regarding site conditions by calling Region 5 toll-free at 800-621-8431 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

For more information about the EPA’s five year review, visit www.epa.gov/R5Super/npl/minnesota/MND980704738.html.

City requests bonding for water infrastructure

In hopes of reducing the number of residents drinking from a potentially polluted water supply, Lake Elmo has requested $4 million in state bonding funds to help enhance its watermain infrastructure. Many Lake Elmo residents still rely on private wells for water utilities, and the city hopes that extending two of its existing trunk watermain lines, located on Lake Elmo and Inwood avenues, will provide more residents with safe, non-contaminated municipal water.

“The project...addresses a long-term sustainable solution for the delivery of safe drinking water to much of Lake Elmo affected by the underlying PFC groundwater contamination,” the request states.

If the bonding is approved, the city would begin construction in May, the application says.

The city’s application and more information about the project can be found at http://build.mn/project/metro/lake-elmo/details.

State lawsuit

Because of the possible adverse health effects of PFCs, which the Department of Health says are still largely unknown, the Minnesota attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit against 3M in December 2010. Last summer, Lake Elmo officials decided to withdraw from the suit, which it now calls “stagnate.”

Lake Elmo instead opted to enter into a tolling agreement that would allow the city to “cease ongoing legal action” and “collaboratively review facts and scientific data relating to groundwater quality” with 3M, according to a statement released by the city in August 2013.

City administrator Dean Zuleger explained that the departure from the lawsuit does not rule out the possibility of litigation in the future.

“It’s an opportunity to talk to 3M about our problems with groundwater pollution in a collaborative way,” he said at the time.

Despite Lake Elmo’s split, the Metropolitan Council planning group remains a party in the suit.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.

 

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