Minnesota health, pollution control leaders discuss progress in managing ‘forever chemicals’

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State health and pollution control officials gathered at the Minnesota Capitol Thursday morning and offered an update on the state’s progress in managing “forever chemicals.”

Representatives from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Department of Health (MDH) discussed the state’s response to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are chemicals that don’t break down in the environment, and highlighted their impact.

Exposure to PFAS can lead to an increased risk for certain cancers, immune suppression, liver function and more.

“All of us, all Minnesotans, are directly and indirectly impacted by PFAS. We get it from our drinking water, from food packaging, from the stain-resistant coating on carpets or furniture, many of our consumer products,” Minnesota Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said.

RELATED: EPA mulls federal drinking water standards to rein in “forever chemicals”

While PFAS contamination from 3M has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, officials note they’re also found in soil, water, air and wildlife, and some areas of the state have higher PFAS levels than others.

Additionally, officials discussed the various PFAS-related requests from state agencies that are included in Gov. Tim Walz’s budget proposal. Altogether, the governor’s budget proposal includes more than $45.5 million to help prevent, manage and clean up PFAS pollution, officials say.

“Minnesotans should feel encouraged by our progress, however, there is much more work to be done to build on this momentum and keep up with our evolving understanding of PFAS,” MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the Legislature on proposals that could accelerate essential pollution prevention measures and bring additional resources to work to avoid, manage and clean up PFAS.”

Back in 2021, the MPCA unveiled the state’s PFAS Blueprint. Since then, officials say state agencies have been working to test public water supplies for PFAS, create pollution prevention partnerships and help create new technology to clean up the forever chemicals.

“I do think the fact that people are starting to ask questions means that we’ve got people’s attention and that they understand we’re taking this seriously,” Kessler said.

“Even though we have done this first round of testing and monitoring in all of our drinking water systems, that is going to continue. … Unfortunately, this problem has been building for decades and it is continuing because of new chemicals coming into the state or new products, and we’re learning more, so this will be an iterative process,” Huff added.