Families in 80 Washington County homes will be drinking water from bottles until the state can install carbon filter systems to take harmful chemicals out of the water source.
Residents were notified by mail after the wells supplying water to their homes were tested and found to have perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) that exceed the safe level of 70 parts per trillion, according to a Minnesota Department of Health press release.
This doesn't come as a surprise to the state. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been watching the spread of these chemicals since 2004 and even found them in Minneapolis' popular Lake Calhoun.
What are PFOS and PFOA?
In short, they're organic chemicals that have been fluorinated and were used to make furniture fabrics, carpets, clothing, paper food packaging, and more, the Environmental Protection Agency says.
They can accumulate in humans (and fish and the environment), and studies have indicated higher levels can cause some health effects, including cancer, developmental issues in newborns, and more.
Minnesota agencies have known that these chemicals are in the water for a long time, but they only recently raised their standards for what is safe to drink. Previously, the water was deemed safe if it only had 200 parts per trillion for PFOS, and 400 parts per trillion for PFOA (that's a way to measure how concentrated the chemical is in the water). That standard was deemed safe for most people, but new tests on lab animals revealed that infants and fetuses were still at risk.
To protect the babies, they lowered the accepted contaminate level which means houses that met the previous level needed to be reevaluated, the Department of Health said.
That's why these 80 homes have now been deemed at risk.
What to do if your water is contaminated
Just don't drink the water.
According to MDH, water with levels above health advisory levels is safe for bathing, showering or washing clothes and cleaning, but should not be used for drinking or cooking.
To find out what else you can do, or if your water is at risk, click here to visit the MDH health advisory.
How did the chemicals get there?
From the late 1940s until as recently as the 1970s, the 3M Company disposed of products containing chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS, in a landfill and three dump sites in Washington County, the Department of Health says.
Contaminated groundwater was first discovered in the area in 2002 – 3M and the state are still embroiled in an ongoing legal battle, according to the Pioneer Press. 3M did phase out the use of these chemicals however.
PFOA and PFOS have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics or furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials, such as cookware that resists water, grease or stains. They are also in some products used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.