U.S. Water News Online
HASTINGS, Minn. -- For years, Kim Christienson barely gave
a thought to the water coming from the well outside her house. Her
family drank it, washed with it, cooked with it.
These days, she thinks about the water a lot. The discovery of
trace amounts of an industrial chemical has Christienson and many
other people wondering if it's safe to use, even as health officials
assure them it's fine.
"I feel like there's a risk and they don't know what it is,"
Christienson said, "and I don't want to take that risk with my
children. How could I?"
Since the discovery of the chemicals, used for years by 3M Co.,
one of Minnesota's largest companies, health officials have said
families should use bottled water or buy filters if it gives them
peace of mind. The hope is that animal tests, to be finished within
the next several months, will further show that the water is fit for
Bill Nelson, a spokesman for 3M, said the company is "working as
hard as we can with the state of Minnesota" to learn more about the
chemical concentration and pinpoint the source. State health
officials say as many as 51,000 households -- nearly 143,000 people
-- could be affected in eight Twin Cities suburbs.
In the meantime, people like Terri Jo Wargo, of nearby St. Paul
Park, are wondering whether to pony up for a filter or buy jugs of
water. Since hearing about the chemical discovery, Wargo has been
mixing formula for her four-month-old daughter, Abby, in bottled
water, though she still bathes the baby in water from her tap.
"If they don't filter it, then they at least need to let us know
what is going to happen at these (chemical) levels, right away," said
Wargo, who joined about 75 other people earlier this month at a
packed meeting at Hastings City Hall.
"Otherwise, how are we supposed to respond?"
The towns where traces of the chemical PFBA were found form a
semicircle from South St. Paul on the southern edge of St. Paul to
Hastings, which sits 30 miles to the southeast.
Health officials found traces as high as 1.8 parts per billion in
Cottage Grove and 2.3 ppb in St. Paul Park. Water in the other cities
had concentrations below 1 ppb, the standard the Health Department
uses to notify the public. The agency hasn't come up with a uniform
standard at which it would declare the levels unhealthy.
PFBA is part of a class of chemicals called perfluorochemicals, or
PFCs, which 3M made at its Cottage Grove plant from the 1950s until
2002 for use in stain repellents, nonstick cookware and other
products. The chemicals were dumped in the company's Woodbury
landfill during the 1960s, and it's believed they then began to flow
with the groundwater toward the Mississippi River, which runs
alongside the communities where PFBAs were found.
Unease over the issue has led to a number of proposals this
session at the state Legislature.
One bill would define PFCs as hazardous substances, ensuring the
polluters would be responsible for the cost of cleaning up or
removing the chemicals. Another measure would set an interim health
risk limit of 0.5 ppb for PFBAs while the health risks are
reassessed. And still another proposes that PFCs in the body tissue
of volunteers be measured.
To quell fears and squash rumors about the chemical PFBA, the
Health Department and the state's Pollution Control Agency set up
meetings at churches and city halls across the six communities.
For Cottage Grove resident Gina Tester, who has two daughters ages
5 and 6, the state's approach is reasonable.
"We'll see how it all plays out," she said. "If we need to test
the water, we'll test it. If we need a filter, we'll get one. If we
need to buy bottled water, OK. I'm not giving up on my community.
We're not going anywhere because of this."
Yet at All Saints Lutheran Church, where Tester sat in the pews
with about 200 people, the loudest round of applause was for a man
who said 3M could solve the problem by simply paying for filters on
any well -- municipal or private -- where the chemicals have been
The Pollution Control Agency might eventually force 3M to do just
that, but not without solid evidence that the chemical concentration
can be harmful to humans, officials said.
"You want your answers to be based on the best available science,"
said John Linc Stine, a state Health Department official.
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