Water Unsafe in 150 Homes

posted on:
September 16, 2006

author:
Staff

category:
Environmental

 About 150 Lake Elmo households have now been advised by the Minnesota Department of Health to use bottled water for drinking and cooking a figure that has jumped nearly 19 times since the department’s first such recommendation. 

The Health Department also has tweaked its well-advisory guidelines for perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, the contaminant that has been found in Lake Elmo private wells. The new guidelines mean homes in five neighborhoods Lake Elmo Heights, Tablyn Park, Torre Pines, Parkview Estates and Whistling Valley will receive bottled water from the state to use instead of well water until city water service is extended.

In the spring of 2005, only eight Tablyn Park households were advised to use bottled water; last May, that number jumped to 40 in two neighborhoods. About 360 homes in the area have been tested for PFCs.

It’s been about four years since the Health Department first was able to test for PFCs in private wells. Since then, more information about the chemicals has become available, and new tests have been created for them, said Jim Kelly, a health assessor.

The department presented the new figures at a neighborhood meeting Thursday in Lake Elmo, attended by more than 100 residents.

“As a cautious public health approach, we are applying new guidelines,” Kelly said.

Lake Elmo Heights and Tablyn Park, where the original contamination was found, are slated to receive city water service through the extension of Lake Elmo’s public water system and a new water tower, which should be finished by the end of the year. Private wells in those areas will be sealed.

Some residents at the meeting asked about the extension of city water to the three other neighborhoods.

“We have the capabilities to do it,” city engineer Tom Prew said. “We’re waiting for someone to say, ‘go ahead.’ ”

Maplewood-based 3M Co. last year gave Lake Elmo a $3.3 million grant to fund the Lake Elmo Heights/Tablyn Park water project and also has donated land for a new 750,000-gallon water tower. 3M also has agreed to pay for about two years of water service for those residents.

“We heard those concerns at City Council meetings,” said spokesman Bill Nelson. “And two years seemed like a reasonable amount of time.”

Health officials still are investigating the source of the contaminants and have tested wells near the Washington County Landfill, in northern Lake Elmo, and a waste site in Oakdale.

PFCs have been used to make products that resist heat, oil and stains. 3M used them for decades at a Cottage Grove facility; waste was placed in several disposal sites, including the county and Oakdale sites, according to state officials.

The contaminants also have been found in Oakdale city wells; 3M is building a carbon treatment filter there that is expected to be up and running in November.

Earlier this spring, additional chemicals were discovered in Lake Elmo after the state Health Department developed tests for five other substances in the PFC family and re-tested wells for them.

The Health Department is reviewing whether its health-based values for PFCs should be lowered. Health-based values are the amount of a chemical in water considered safe for people to drink daily for a lifetime.

The original values for perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, were developed in 2002, Kelly said. The new value is 0.6 parts per billion for PFOS and two related substances; the 2002 value was 1 ppb. The new value for PFOA and three similar contaminantsis 1 ppb; the 2002 value for PFOA was 7 ppb.

Nancy Yang covers the Washington County communities of Woodbury, Oakdale, Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, Newport, St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island Township. She can be reached at 651-228-5480 or nyang@pioneerpress.com.

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