Lake Elmo wells added to list with unsafe chemical levels

This map from the Minnesota Department of Health indicates advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS chemicals.
This map from the Minnesota Department of Health indicates advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS chemicals. See the key below.

MDH Response to EPA Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS - East MNew federal guidelines and review by the Minnesota Department of Health have caused 80 additional wells in Washington County to be added to a list of water sources with higher-than-allowed levels of chemical pollutions. About 25 of these wells are in Lake Elmo.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Aug. 23 that residents with wells that have been added to the list will be supplied with bottled water or fitted with water filters at the state’s expense.

The trigger to add the additional wells was not an increase in the number of wells affected by pollution, but that the science behind the federal and state pollution control has found that tougher standards were needed.

“Science is always evolving,” said health department spokesperson David Schultz.

The chemicals in the water are perfluoro-octane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA)  and were manufactured by 3M up until the 1970s. At that time, it was legal to dump these chemicals into landfills, and 3M put the chemicals into landfills in Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Woodbury. In the last 40 years, traces of the chemicals have seeped into groundwater.

Since the chemicals were first discovered in groundwater in 2002, the department of health has tested the water system and has encouraged hundreds of homes to hook up to municipal water systems or has provided home filtration systems.

When the department of health first set limits on the amount of PFOS and PFOA considered safe in groundwater, the state’s acceptable level was 300 parts per trillion, and the federal level was between 200 and 400 parts per trillion. Schultz said new research by the federal pollution agency has found that only 70 parts per trillion should be acceptable.

“When the health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion was announced, we looked at our own research and found that our numbers were similar,” Schultz said

While the chemicals have been linked to some kinds of cancers, liver damage and harm to the thyroid, new research also includes risks to infants and developing fetuses.

“Because their bodies are smaller, a smaller amount of the chemicals would have an effect,” Schultz said. “An infant could be exposed to the chemicals through the mother or through water used in formula.”

The wells that have been added to the list have already been tested several times since 2002, Schultz said, and homeowners have been aware of the chemicals.

“We test 400 to 500 wells per year and about 1,500 wells are impacted by the chemicals in the groundwater,” Schultz said. “While there may be new homeowners, we hope that if a house has been sold, that they would make the new owner aware of the chemicals.”

Water with chemical levels above health advisory levels is safe for bathing, showering or washing clothes and cleaning, but should not be used for drinking or cooking.

Residents in the affected area who have questions or concerns about their health or their water can find information at health.state.mn.us or  651-201-4897.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]