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Amid state PFC level change, Woodbury says water still safe to consume

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There will be public information meetings in Cottage Grove and Lake Elmo for residents to learn more from MDH, MPCA and city officials.

The Cottage Grove meeting will be 6 to 8 p.m. June 7 City Hall, and the Lake Elmo meeting will be 6 to 8 p.m. June 6 at Oak-Land Junior High.

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Drinking water in Woodbury is still safe to consume.

The Minnesota Department of Health listed Woodbury as a city with water exceeding recommended PFOA and PFOS — specific kinds of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) — after the department lowered its recommended values.

The national Environmental Protection Agency recommends PFOA and PFOS levels lower than 70 parts per trillion. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced May 23 that they recommend levels at or below 35 parts per trillion for PFOA and 27 parts per trillion for PFOS.  

Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said they decided to lower the values to as “additional steps to protect the most vulnerable” residents, such as kids and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

“We determined the values for Minnesota, our health-based values, needed to be a little lower than they were a year ago,” the Health Department’s Jim Kelly said.

Following the department’s announcement, Woodbury city officials said drinking water is safe to drink, and PFC levels fall below the new state guidelines.

Though the Health Department noted four of the city’s 19 wells containing water that exceeded the new guidelines, Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley said the city plans to reduce the amount of water drawn from them.

State agents also found by the time water reaches faucets, the amount of the amount of PFOA and PFOS —specific types of PFCs — are at an acceptable level. Water from Woodbury’s wells is mixed together, Gridley said.

"At the faucet, we're absolutely confident our water meets the advisory health values," he said. "It continues to, and has been, safe to drink."

PFCs in Cottage Grove, Oakdale, St. Paul Park and Bemidji’s public drinking water is also above the limit due to the change, though some of those cities will not require much mitigation.

There are also 121 private wells in Washington County that are contaminated, though none are in Woodbury.

Jane Braun of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said those homeowners were sent letters, and will receive bottled water as a short-term solution. Braun said she expects installation for new full-house water systems to begin in July, as needed.

Taxpayers will not be responsible for funding the mitigation efforts.

There is a state statute requiring the responsible pollutant — in this case, 3M — to pay.

William Brewer, 3M attorney at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, said they are “analyzing 3M’s rights and obligations” in the agreement to pay for mitigation measures due to the pollutants.  

“The company exited these chemistries more than a decade ago and has already voluntarily helped remediate the chemicals from the environment. In any event, we are hopeful the state will approach all parties who might be the proximate cause of the alleged impacts to the wells in question.”

Carol Ley, 3M medical director, said the updated levels are “overly conservative.”

“The U.S. EPA advised just last year that a lifetime of consuming water containing 70 parts per trillion for either PFOA or PFOS, or the sum of the two, does not pose risk to human health and the level is, in fact, protective of all populations,” she said in an email. “We believe that PFOS and PFOA do not present health risks at levels they are typically found in the environment or in human blood.”

Brewer said it’s “important to note” that there have not been any recorded cases of health effects from environmental exposure to PFOA or PFOS.

Youssef Rddad contributed to this report.

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