Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in Minnesota
Over the last 15 years or so, scientists have found trace levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) nearly everywhere in the environment. Low levels are found in people and animals around the globe.
In 2004 in Minnesota, PFCs were first found to have contaminated drinking water supplies in parts of the eastern Twin Cities.
Most of the contamination was traced to four dumps or landfills. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, 3M disposed of wastes from PFC manufacturing primarily in dump sites in Oakdale and Woodbury, at the 3M manufacturing facility in Cottage Grove, and at the Washington County landfill.
It has been apparent since 2006, however, that PFCs may be present at concentrations of potential concern in areas that are not related to the waste disposal sites.
Using funding provided by 3M, the MPCA found that:
- Fish from several lakes in the Twin Cities and portions of the Mississippi River have elevated concentrations of PFOS (one of the PFCs of concern), which has prompted the Minnesota Department of Health to issue fish-consumption advisories.
- Trace levels of PFCs are found in some shallow groundwater statewide, although levels are well within health standards.
- PFCs were found in the discharge of a number of wastewater treatment plants sampled by the MPCA.
- PFCs were detected at permitted landfills, as well as in groundwater near some facilities (also at levels within health-based limits).
What are PFCs?
PFCs are a family of synthetic chemicals, initially developed by the 3M Company, that have been used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Common uses include nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, components of firefighting foam, industrial applications, coatings for packaging such as milk cartons, cosmetic additives, and other personal products.
In the past, PFCs including perfluorooctane sulfate (PFOS), perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA), and perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA) were not regulated. 3M has phased out manufacture of some PFCs, but there are currently other manufacturers of PFCs around the world.
The chemical structures of PFOS and PFOA make them extremely resistant to breakdown in the environment. PFOS and PFOA accumulate in humans and animals. Less is known about PFBA.
Are PFCs harmful?
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there is no scientific agreement yet on whether PFCs cause illnesses in people. Studies in animals have found some health effects, including changes in liver and thyroid function, increased tumors in certain organs, and reproductive problems. Scientists are still studying PFCs to determine if there is an effect on our health.
You can find more complete information about potential health effects of PFCs and the limits determined to be safe to drink,on the Minnesota Department of Health's website. Receive the latest information from MDH by subscribing to MDH's Perfluorochemicals and Health in Minnesota e-mail updates.
Residents of Washington and Dakota Counties concerned about possible contamination of their private wells by PFCs are now able to get their water tested through a partnership between the counties and MDH. The cost for testing is $384 in Washington County, $387 in Dakota County. Visit Washington County or Dakota County for more information.
Find out more about what's already been done.
For more Information
For more information about MPCA’s involvement with perfluorochemicals, contact Ralph Pribble, Public Information Officer, 651-757-2657.