During 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?
PFCs are “emerging contaminants.” This term describes contaminants about which we have a new awareness or understanding about how they move in the environment or affect public health. PFCs, like other emerging contaminants, are the focus of active research and study. New information about human health effects is released periodically.
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 email updates.
- Investigating PFCs in Minnesota: Current Status as of March 2009
- PFCs in Minnesota’s Ambient Environment: 2008 Progress Report
For more Information
For more information about the MPCA’s involvement with perfluorochemicals, contact Walker Smith, Communication Office, 651-757-2738.