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State rolls out dashboard showing PFAS monitoring results for drinking water

Jun 08, 2022 10:07AM ● By Laura Durenberger
Image: Boreal Community Media files 

From the Minnesota Department of Health - June 7, 2022

Minnesota residents who get their drinking water from a community public water system will now be able to find out if their system’s water has any level of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), through an interactive online dashboard unveiled today by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

According to the results of statewide testing reflected in the new dashboard, the vast majority of community water systems in the state have either no detections of PFAS or levels that are below the current state levels of health concern. Health officials say the statewide testing and dashboard will provide a baseline of information to help communities manage any changes in PFAS occurrence or health risk understanding in the future.

MDH began a project in 2021 to test for PFAS in community water systems across the state. The dashboard represents the current status of that project. Testing and monitoring will be ongoing through 2022. Minnesota joins other states, such as Michigan, Ohio and Illinois, that have tested drinking water statewide for PFAS. MDH is prioritizing sampling in systems that are most vulnerable to PFAS contamination to address the highest potential public health risks first.

“With this new tool, Minnesotans will be able to see for themselves whether PFAS is a concern for the health of their communities and their families,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “Our statewide testing and dashboard are just two examples of how Minnesota continues to be a national leader in providing safe drinking water.”

PFAS are extremely stable and do not break down in the environment. Higher levels of exposure to PFAS are associated with a wide range of human health effects. These include higher cholesterol, changes to liver function, reduced immune response, thyroid disease and, in the case of PFOA, increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

“MDH conducts robust testing to make sure that drinking water meets state PFAS guidance,” said Sandeep Burman, manager of the Drinking Water Protection Section at MDH. “PFAS is a topic of increasing national interest, and Minnesota has taken a proactive approach to addressing PFAS in our communities and our environment. PFAS science and standards will undoubtedly continue to evolve at the federal and state level and as we learn more, we will update PFAS guidance and work with systems to be sure that drinking water stays safe. The dashboard will help us and our community partners manage PFAS in drinking water now and into the future.”

The statewide testing effort has completed assessment in 401 of approximately 900 public systems in the state, and the 401 systems assessed serve about 75% of Minnesotans who get drinking water from such systems. Nearly two-thirds of the systems tested so far had PFAS present at some level, but the vast majority had PFAS at levels below current Minnesota health-based guidance values in drinking water. Of those systems that have completed testing, only one of them currently exceeds MDH guidance values. Of those that are still undergoing follow-up testing, about 1% are expected to have PFAS at levels above current state health guidance values. Community water systems with elevated PFAS above health-based guidance levels can take actions to reduce PFAS levels, such as treatment or reduced pumping from contaminated wells.

“Some PFAS are commonly found at low levels in drinking water, but it’s rare to find elevated PFAS in drinking water outside of communities with known contamination sites,” said Jane de Lambert, MDH environmental research scientist. 

PFAS are a family of human-made chemicals that were used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. Since 2002, MDH has partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to investigate PFAS in Minnesota. This work began with drinking water investigations near the 3M Cottage Grove plant and related legacy waste disposal sites in Washington County. State agencies released Minnesota’s PFAS Blueprint in February 2021, which outlines a strategic approach and actions for addressing PFAS in the state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently published a PFAS Strategic Roadmap of national strategies to manage PFAS in the environment. That roadmap includes plans to establish new federal standards for PFAS in drinking water. New federal standards could trigger review of Minnesota’s standards.

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