Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are an enormous family of chemicals now pervasive in the environment. Called “forever chemicals,” they do not break down and can bioaccumulate in both humans and other living organisms, with some known to be toxic. Minnesota requires a strategic, coordinated approach to protecting families and communities.
Where are PFAS? Everywhere.
In Minnesota, the first ‘discovery’ of PFAS contamination was in drinking water in the East Metropolitan area of the Twin Cities in the early 2000's. 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. PFAS are present everywhere in the environment, and because they don't break down, will remain so for generations.
PFAS are used in a wide variety of industrial processes and commercial products. Two of the most studied are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
While PFOS and PFOA are no longer produced in the US, products containing them are still in circulation in homes and businesses around Minnesota.
PFAS have been detected in air emissions from industrial facilities, wastewater from industrial and municipal sources, soil and water surrounding firefighting training sites, groundwater surrounding landfills, and are sometimes found with no obvious source at all.
What do we know about PFAS? Not enough.
New PFAS are being invented, used in industry and incorporated into commercial products, and released into the environment every day. Key challenges in understanding and regulating PFAS are identifying their uses, presence in the environment, and impacts on health and ecosystems.
The breadth and diversity of PFAS pollution, coupled with a lack of research on health impacts, complicates the development of regulatory and non-regulatory approaches to managing PFAS.
Minnesota state agencies have been working to respond to PFAS and incorporate managing this pollution into regular research, guidance, and regulatory work for nearly two decades.
The Minnesota Department of Health has developed health-based values for five PFAS (PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFBA and PFBS) and is currently reviewing a sixth (PFHxA). However, energy has largely been focused on reacting to new PFAS discoveries and specific concerns.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency continues working; with permit holders and other states to understand the opportunities to reduce the presence of PFAS in both landfill leachate and wastewater, and addressing PFAS at contaminated sites across the state. The MPCA announced in October 2020 new protective water and fish consumption values for PFOS in several Twin Cities metro water bodies, including Bde Maka Ska and Pool 2 of the Mississippi River.
Minnesota's desired strategy for PFAS management
1 – Prevent
PFAS pollution wherever possible
2 – Manage
PFAS pollution when prevention is not feasible or pollution has already occurred
3 – Clean up
PFAS pollution at contaminated sites
Scientists and environmental regulators have reached an overwhelming consensus that significant actions are needed to prevent adverse impacts from PFAS. While management and mitigation actions have significant positive effects, ultimately Minnesota cannot clean our way out of the PFAS problem. Instead, the pollution must be prevented from the outset through restrictions or bans on PFAS uses and assistance and financial support for reformulation.
Ten priorities to protect communities and families
Working together, Minnesota state agencies developed Minnesota’s PFAS Blueprint to support a holistic and systematic approach to address PFAS concerns in 10 key issue areas. The significant interconnections and overlaps between different areas illustrate the complexity and difficulty of managing PFAS.
Measuring PFAS effectively and consistently
State agencies have developed multiple efforts to ensure consistent and accurate PFAS analytical results. Despite this important work, it is currently impossible to quantitatively measure the vast majority of PFAS in the environment.
Understanding risks from PFAS air emissions
Federal and state governments have not developed PFAS health screening value for air as there is limited research about the toxicity of PFAS from air exposure. Minnesota also has limited information on which facilities emit PFAS to the air.
Quantifying PFAS risk to human health
Risk assessments are needed to ensure that levels of contaminants in the environment are protective of the community’s health.
Preventing PFAS pollution
Pollution prevention approaches are designed to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals and prevent the need for expensive treatment and remediation efforts. More work is required to prevent non-essential uses and releases of PFAS.
Limiting PFAS exposure from drinking water
Minnesotans value safe and sufficient drinking water. MDH has planned for, and has ongoing monitoring efforts in place that will cover at least 90 percent of people served by community water systems by 2025.
Limiting PFAS exposure from food
Minnesotans should have confidence that their food is safe from harmful toxins. Research has shown that PFAS can accumulate into produce and livestock from contaminated water, air, soil, and animal feed or migrate into food from PFAS-coated cookware and food packaging.
Reducing PFAS exposure from fish and game consumption
Hunting and fishing are a way of life in Minnesota. Continued research of PFAS in fish and wildlife has indicated that some compounds can accumulate in commonly-consumed fish and game tissue. More work is required to ensure safe consumption of fish and game is maintained for future generations.
Protecting ecosystem health
New research models and tools for ecological risk assessments are being designed for the unique physical and chemical properties of PFAS. Using new data and research, Minnesota can ensure its ecosystems are healthy and diverse.
Remediating PFAS contaminated sites
While state agencies have developed several health- based clean-up values, Minnesota does not have a comprehensive list of PFAS uses in manufacturing and industrial processes and a comprehensive understanding of risks to human health. More information is needed to determine the locations of and risks posed by possible releases of PFAS into the environment.
Managing PFAS in waste
Because of its widespread use in products, PFAS is entering Minnesota’s waste streams and going to solid waste facilities and wastewater treatment plants where it is difficult and expensive to address. The most strategic approach to managing PFAS is preventing them from entering waste streams in the first place.
Opportunities for action
The Minnesota PFAS Blueprint identifies short- and long-term opportunities, as well as legislative actions, to manage PFAS in our environment and protect families and communities. Over the coming months and years, state agencies will further develop these strategies and engage Minnesotans on how best to implement them.
Future needs and opportunities are complex and resource-intensive. State agencies and community partners will need to work together to undertake projects that most strategically advance the collective goal to protect human health and the environment from the impacts of PFAS.
See the full list of considerations in Minnesota's PFAS blueprint (p-gen1-22).
Short term (within the next two years)
- Making progress on statewide water quality standards for PFAS-Class 1 drinking water.
- Creating a plan for monitoring PFAS in groundwater at active landfills.
- Generating a plan for monitoring PFAS at NPDES permitted facilities.
- Compiling information on inhalation PFAS toxicity.
- Developing a plan for performance testing for PFAS at permitted air sources.
- Issuing guidance on the collection and disposal of PFAS-containing firefighting foam concentrate and wastewater.
- Researching cutting-edge risk assessment techniques for data-poor PFAS.
- Updating guidance for recommended compound testing at cleanup sites to include PFAS.
Long term (more than two years)
- Assessing the need for acute wildlife risk assessment from exposure to PFAS-containing foam.
- Requiring mandatory air toxics, including PFAS, reporting from facilities.
- Providing financial and technical assistance to businesses for switching from PFAS-containing products.
- Developing soil to groundwater leaching values for PFAS to be used in cleanups and disposal guidance.
- Developing an epidemiological study of residents exposed to PFAS through drinking water.
- Requiring labeling of PFAS-containing products.
- Assessing the need for developing statewide water quality standards for PFAS-Class 2 aquatic consumption, aquatic life.
- Minnesota's PFAS blueprint (p-gen1-22)
- Minnesota's PFAS Blueprint summary
- Minnesota's PFAS blueprint: Issue paper summaries (p-gen1-22a)
- PFAS proposals for the 2021 legislative session
- Video: PFAS Monitoring Plan development kick-off event – June 3, 2021