Bills would Flag Risks of Old 3M Chemicals

posted on:
February 22, 2007

author:
Staff

category:
Environmental

 A legislator from Cottage Grove introduces bills to respond to groundwater contamination in the east metro area.Certain chemicals once made by 3M would be defined as “hazardous substances” and their health risks would receive new scrutiny under bills introduced at the Legislature this week. 

The proposals came after a chemical called PFBA was detected last month in drinking-water wells of six east metro communities. Other 3M chemicals had been found earlier in public and private wells serving Oakdale and Lake Elmo.

Three bills relating to the chemicals were filed by Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, who has criticized the state’s response to the pollution. Cottage Grove is one of the cities affected by the PFBA pollution. The others are Woodbury, St. Paul Park, Hastings, South St. Paul and Newport.

State health officials said that the levels of PFBA in the water do not represent an immediate threat to public health, but that little is known about long-term exposure to the chemical.

One of Sieben’s bills would define PFBA and similar compounds called perfluorochemicals (PFCs) as hazardous substances under the Minnesota Environmental Response and Liability Act, commonly known as the state Superfund law.

The effect would be to ensure that any costs of removing or cleaning up PFCs in the environment would be borne by the polluters, rather than taxpayers, Sieben said. “It’s wise for the state to be looking out for the best interests of the cities,” she said.

Several of the chemicals were formerly manufactured by Maplewood-based 3M for use in products such as stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foams, film and nonstick cookware.

3M officials did not return several calls asking for comment on the proposed legislation.

Ralph Heussner, spokesman for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said the agency believes that it already has the authority to declare that PFCs are hazardous substances. “We have not yet decided that is a step that needs to be taken,” Heussner said.

Another proposal at the Capitol would set interim health risk limits for PFBA and at least temporarily tighten the existing limits for two other perfluorochemicals, PFOA and PFOS. The limits are based upon what the Minnesota Department of Health considers safe to drink daily over a lifetime. The limits are also used to determine whether contaminant levels are high enough to warrant advisories that citizens drink bottled water.

The Health Department established health-based values for PFOA and PFOS in 2002, but not for PFBA.

The bill would require the department to reassess the health risks and develop limits for all three chemicals by Aug. 1. Until then, the bill would require that interim limits for each chemical be set at 0.5 parts per billion, slightly below the Health Department’s current guidelines for those substances.

John Linc Stine, director of the environmental health division at the Health Department, said that officials are aware of the bill and have not taken a position on it. “If the bill is heard, we’ll have comments about the Legislature’s role in establishing health based limits,” Stine said.

Another proposal includes PFCs in a larger bill that would establish an environmental health tracking system in the state. One provision would authorize a small-scale study of the concentrations of different chemicals, including PFCs, in the blood of volunteers.

Sieben said that companion bills will be introduced by House authors in a few days, and she expects hearings on the proposals within a few weeks.

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