BEMIDJI-Bemidji and a handful of east of St. Paul put interim water safety measures in place after the Minnesota Department of Health adopted stricter standards, but city leaders stress that water here is safe to drink.
The Health Department on Tuesday, May 23, unveiled new advisories for a pair of industrial chemicals-PFOA and PFOS-found in Bemidji-area groundwater and some East Metro cities. Department staff said the advisories are the result of the tougher standards and not a new influx of those chemicals.
"Drinking water with PFOA or PFOS, even at levels above the updated values, does not represent an immediate health risk," they cautioned in a statement. "The values are designed to reduce long-term health risks across the population and are based on multiple safety factors to protect the most vulnerable citizens, which makes them over-protective for most residents."
The department recommends that breastfeeding women in the affected areas and pregnant women who plan to breastfeed should continue to do so, but pregnant women who use private wells in the affected area and those using water from affected groundwater sources to prepare infant formula "may consider" using bottled water or filtration to reduce their exposure to the chemicals.
The two chemicals were used in stain repellants, non-stick cookware and other industrial products. In Bemidji, they were used in firefighting foam at the city's regional airport through the years. In Washington County, the chemicals found their way into the groundwater after 3M-a Minnesota-based company that specializes in consumer chemicals and adhesives-disposed of them.
Bemidji city staff said two groundwater wells near the airport had PFOA or PFOS levels that exceeded the new state guidelines, but stressed that city water is safe to drink because water from three other airport wells is blended together to a level below the new MDH guidelines.
City staff hired a consulting firm Monday night, May 22, to start a 12-week study of water treatment technology, costs and potential timelines for action. Other cities in Minnesota, Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews said, have installed new carbon filters in their water systems when presented with similar issues.
The state's standards are about twice as strict as those adopted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency last year. Representatives from the health department and pollution control agency said they augmented the EPA's research with new studies that were released since then, and that Minnesota's standard-which is measured in parts per trillion-is nonetheless relatively close to the federal one.
"But we err on the side of caution," said Ed Ehlinger, state Health Department commissioner.