MPCA, state agencies reveal a statewide blueprint to address PFAS

Cori Rude-Young, 612-986-1285
Darin Broton, 651-226-0078

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) today released Minnesota’s PFAS Blueprint — a strategic, coordinated approach developed by multiple agencies to protect families and communities from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The blueprint included 10 priority areas centered on additional research, new health guidance, drinking water and food protections, as well as additional tools for cleanup and prevention.

“Every day, these ‘forever chemicals’ are produced, used, processed, and released into the environment, yet we aren’t fully aware of the toxicity and dangers of PFAS,” said Laura Bishop, commissioner of the MPCA. “Using almost two decades of knowledge and experience in researching and managing PFAS, Minnesota has developed a comprehensive, statewide blueprint to protect communities and families from PFAS contamination.”

The blueprint also included immediate, short- and long-term strategies that state agencies, the Minnesota Legislature, industries, and local governments should consider to prevent, manage, and clean up PFAS contamination. Over the coming months and years, state agencies will further develop these strategies and engage Minnesotans on how best to implement them. Some PFAS strategies can be developed by using existing authorities and resources. Many other strategies will require legislative action, including the following priorities for the 2021 legislative session:

Designating PFAS as hazardous substances. Designating PFAS as hazardous substances would enable a faster, more efficient response to releases of PFAS that threaten drinking water, communities, and families. Minnesota would join a handful of states making this designation. In January 2020, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to designate PFAS as hazardous substances, but never received a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Requiring companies to disclose information on contaminants. If enacted, the MPCA would require Minnesota facilities to submit information on the use of PFAS and other contaminants in products and processes when monitoring shows unexplained presence of contaminants in the environment.

Identifying sources of PFAS in the environment. A $700,000 funding request would provide the MPCA the ability to gather additional and better information to identify potential PFAS sources and prioritize investigations when large amounts of PFAS may have been used, produced, or discarded.

Evaluating PFAS waste going to landfills, compost facilities, and wastewater treatment plants. Minnesota does not have adequate data to evaluate materials entering wastewater and solid waste facilities that contain high levels of PFAS. A two-year funding request of $500,000 will expedite state agencies’ understanding of how waste coming into these facilities is affecting PFAS levels in the water that leaves wastewater and solid waste facilities.

Responding when PFAS are found in closed Minnesota landfills. When unexpected PFAS contamination is found at a closed Minnesota landfill, the MPCA needs access and funding to protect communities and families.

Protecting Minnesotans from fish contaminated with PFAS. PFAS has been detected in remote Minnesota waterways and fish tissue. New and ongoing water monitoring is needed to identify the extent of PFAS contamination in Minnesota and to develop safe fish consumption advice. Governor Walz recommended $400,000 over the next two years to sample fish and water for PFAS.

Protecting drinking water and agricultural lands by understanding PFAS in wastewater and landfill leachate. The MPCA has sought $1.4 million to better understand the impacts of elevated levels of PFAS in wastewater biosolids, compost contact water, and landfill leachate and to evaluate potential treatment options. More information will ensure Minnesota’s drinking water is safe and farms are productive.

“Immediate action is needed to protect Minnesotans from harmful chemicals such as PFAS,” said Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL – White Bear Township). “Working together, we can prevent PFAS contamination and ensure polluted sites are cleaned up.”

Within the next two years, state agencies will consider several short-term strategies, including developing plans to monitor PFAS at national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permitted facilities and in groundwater at active landfills; and making progress on statewide water quality standards for PFAS Class 1 drinking water. Long-term strategies could include limiting or banning PFAS in known non-essential uses, including food packaging, and helping businesses switch from PFAS-containing products.  Short and long-term strategies identified in the blueprint are interconnected to each other. State agencies expect to regularly revisit and revise the blueprint as new information is gathered about PFAS and progress is made on strategies.

"Chemicals like PFAS in our water threaten our public health, wildlife, our beloved Minnesota environment, and our economy. This is a major challenge that we must address as policymakers,” said Sen. Jennifer McEwen (DFL – Duluth). “That’s why I am co-authoring Senator Bigham’s bills to ban PFAS in food packaging and create a working group to investigate PFAS contamination in our water and soil. I am grateful for the MPCA's leadership in identifying where PFAS is present, taking the steps necessary to clean it up, and in taking every action possible to stop further use of this harmful chemical in consumer products.”

With more than 5,000 structures and over 9,000 identified chemistries, PFAS are present in the environment and will remain so for generations. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health effects. In Minnesota, the first ‘discovery’ of PFAS contamination occurred in the early 2000s, when drinking water contamination was found in the East Metropolitan area of the Twin Cities. Since then, PFAS have been detected in water, sediment, soil, and fish all across Minnesota — from Duluth and Brainerd to Lake Bde Maka Ska and Pine Island and places in between.

Additional quotes from legislators and organizations

“For those of us living and working in south Washington County, we have seen the dangers of PFAS pollution in the health and safety of our communities firsthand. I am proud to work with my colleagues in the legislature and with the MPCA to implement Minnesota’s PFAS Blueprint. We are hard at work in the House to make sure that Minnesota has the resources necessary to understand and manage PFAS pollution so that we can keep our communities safe.” — Rep. Keith Franke (R St. Paul Park)

“The contamination and presence of forever chemicals like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in our area’s water is a risk to the long term health of Minnesotans and to our environment. Public and private partners at every level — local, county, and state — must work together in mitigating, remediating, and eliminating the presence of these substances in our water, and taking even more action to ban their use entirely. I’m glad to see that this comprehensive all of the above approach is moving forward.” — Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL Cottage Grove)

“Minnesota is taking a bold step forward with comprehensive PFAS initiatives. ‘Forever chemicals’ cannot be ignored forever. It’s time.” — Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL South St. Paul)

“The blueprint shines a spotlight on the many ways we will have to come together as a state to address these ‘forever chemicals.’ Though the scope of the issue and its challenges can be daunting, the blueprint identifies some of the ways we can start down the right path in Minnesota.” — Deanna White, state director, Clean Water Action and director, Healthy Legacy Coalition

“The science is clear: The ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS are building up in our blood and organs, and have been linked to serious health hazards, including cancer and harm to the immune system.  The Environmental Working Group applauds Minnesota’s effort to develop a comprehensive blueprint for addressing PFAS, but to protect the environment and public health, the state’s efforts to monitor, remediate and prevent PFAS contamination must go further and faster.” — Jamie Konopacky, Midwest director, Environmental Working Group

“During the 2021 legislative session, state legislators can use the recommendations in the blueprint to take meaningful action today — there are numerous bills with bipartisan support that can start building upon the foundation the blueprint lays out. Using our shared values of stewardship and innovation, Minnesota policymakers can use the blueprint to make sure statewide PFAS problems are not kicked down the road to the next generation.” — Paul Austin, executive director, Conservation Minnesota

“Minnesota is home to some of the most widespread PFAS pollution in the county. It must also be a national leader in establishing science-based standards and methods to prevent and remediate further destruction from these ‘forever chemicals.’” — Jay Eidsness, staff attorney, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy