Contacts: Paul Hoff, 651-296-7799
Walker Smith, 651-297-7018
Saint Paul, Minn. - A survey of wastewater treatment plants around the state by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has found elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals at the Brainerd municipal wastewater treatment facility. Sample results from the facility that were confirmed this week show significantly higher levels of one PFC compound, PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), than at other facilities surveyed.
The sampling was part of a survey the MPCA began in April, 2007 of 28 wastewater treatment facilities to look for PFCs in wastewater entering the plants, and treated water being discharged. Results from 21 of the facilities have gone through the agency's quality assurance process. The results from the Brainerd facility, which have also gone through the quality assurance process, were 1.5 parts per billion of PFOS, which stood out significantly from the others surveyed. By comparison, findings for the Twin Cities' main treatment facility were 0.11 ppb. Although the result is from just one sample MPCA officials have confidence in the findings, and intend to conduct additional sampling. Additional survey results will be available later this summer.
Due to these findings, the decision about the city's permit for an expanded wastewater facility - scheduled to be considered by the MPCA Citizens' Board next Tuesday - has been postponed until the agency learns more about the situation.
"The public has a high level of interest in PFCs, and we wanted to get this information out now rather than waiting until all the remaining samples are certified," said MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore. "Additionally, we realize postponing the Board decision puts the Brainerd/Baxter area in a difficult position relative to the permit for its expanded wastewater treatment plant. The area is growing rapidly and needs the additional capacity the new facility would provide. At the same time we take PFC contamination very seriously, and we need to determine what's going on prior to moving forward."
Paul Hoff, supervisor of the MPCA's Environmental Reporting and Special Studies unit, said the agency doesn't know the reason why Brainerd's discharge shows higher levels, and of any potential sources at this point.
"The PFOS levels we see at Brainerd are much higher than at other wastewater treatment facilities we looked at, and we intend to find out why," Hoff said. "The agency's overall PFC monitoring strategy is designed to find whether PFCs are present elsewhere in Minnesota beyond the known source areas, and at what levels. We have also developed a comprehensive plan for the Brainerd area to track down the source, including re-sampling the facility, testing fish and water from the Mississippi River in the vicinity and working with the wastewater plant staff to design a plan to determine the source of PFCs."
Although the finding may raise concerns for some about eating fish, the Minnesota Department of Health's position is that eating fish is healthy, but people should make wise choices about which fish to eat and how often. MDH advises checking the statewide Safe Eating Guidelines or site-specific advice for tested waters, available at www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/fish/eating/safeeating.html.
PFCs have been found above health-based levels in drinking water in parts of the eastern Twin Cities metro area. PFOS is the same compound that MPCA testing this spring found at elevated levels in fish in Lake Calhoun. Based on those findings MDH issued new fish-consumption advisories in April for the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes.
In other efforts this season to determine the presence of PFCs in the environment, the MPCA also is looking at ground water under a number of active landfills. And ground water around the state has been and is continuing to be surveyed for the chemicals. Results from these efforts will be available later in 2007.
Further information about PFCs, including test results, are on the MPCA Web site at www.pca.state.mn.us/hot/pfc.html.