Health Advisory Issued For Elevated Chemical Levels In Bemidji
The Minnesota Department of Health has updated health-based advisory values for two industrial chemicals found in groundwater in the East Minneapolis Metro area and Bemidji. The chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS can pose long-term health risks to those drinking the water, especially pregnant and nursing women.
The updated values are meant to better protect developing infants and very young children, according to a press release. Drinking water with the elevated levels does not pose an immediate health risk, but can build up in the body over time.
The updated values are 35 parts per trillion for PFOA and 27 parts per trillion for PFOS. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a value of 70 parts per trillion. The updated Minnesota values reflect the fact that PFCs are water soluble and do not break down in the environment.
The values also reflect new state-level analysis of the potential for mothers to pass along the chemicals to fetuses through the placenta and nursing infants through breast milk.
“Public health and environmental officials have an obligation to use the best available information to protect Minnesotans’ health,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, in a statement. “As we get a better understanding of the long-term impacts of these chemicals, we need to update our guidance to enhance the protections that were in place previously.”
MDH recommends that women in the affected communities who are currently breastfeeding, and pregnant women who plan to breastfeed, should continue to do so. However, pregnant women in the affected communities and those using water from affected groundwater sources to prepare infant formula may consider using bottled water or filtration to reduce PFC exposure.
PFOA and PFOS are two members of a category of chemicals called perfluorochemicals (PFCs). These chemicals were used for decades in stain repellants, non-stick cookware, and other consumer and industrial products. The 3M Company disposed of PFC-containing wastes in several disposal sites in Washington County, and the chemicals subsequently moved into the groundwater across a wide area. The Bemidji-area groundwater contamination is associated with PFCs in fire-fighting foam used at the community’s airport over the years.
The City of Bemidji says that the water is safe to drink for all residents. In a statement, City Manager Nate Mathews said that the city has made adjustments to its well pumping system, deactivated two wells and blending the water from three others, to ensure the City’s water supply meets those guidelines.
“It is important to note the water in Bemidji’s municipal water system has not changed. The levels of PFOA and PFOS in the water did not spike,” said Mathews in a press release. “The only thing that changed is the MDH health-based guideline values. As soon as the City was notified of the MDH revised guidelines, the City immediately reacted to ensure that the water residents rely upon meets the new guidelines.”
The city says that it has hired an engineering consultant and will begin to work on a permanent solution to provide treatment of these chemicals in the city’s water supply system.
When updated values are issued, MDH and MPCA work with local systems and private well owners to determine how best to respond. This often includes additional private well sampling, providing filters for private well owners who may not have other options, and changes to community water supplies to reduce PFC levels.
Simple filters that go on the kitchen tap work well to remove the chemicals from the water and reduce exposure. In some cases, using bottled water for drinking may be recommended until other remedies are in place.