There’s only so much that individual communities can do for their residents at this point.
Cottage Grove, Minn. — The city of Oakdale has been dealing with the groundwater contamination issue for at least three years. Its experience is a good example of how difficult it can be for a local community to respond to such an issue, when the research is continually being updated.
In January 2005, the state revealed the presence of old 3M chemicals — PFOS and PFOA — in Oakdale’s drinking water. But the state said the levels of the chemicals were within safe limits.
At the time, Mayor Carmen Sarrack said he was confident Oakdale’s water was safe — and he even drank a glass of tap water from a sink in the council chambers to prove his point.
“I don’t think less than a part per billion should be a concern for the citizens,” he said at the time.
Since then, the Health Department has lowered the Health Based Value — the level at which the department considers the water safe to drink — for both those chemicals. As a result, one of Oakdale’s eight wells is out of compliance.
Two of the operating wells have been outfitted with charcoal filters to remove the PFOS and PFOA. Those filters are effective at removing PFBA from the water. But the filters have to be changed more frequently. Within six weeks of opening its Oakdale water filtration system, the lead water filters had to be changed.
Oakdale officials are meeting with 3M to get clearance to begin looking for a new well location — which 3M would pay for.
In a statement released to MPR news, the city of Oakdale says the community’s water is safe to drink.
“Oakdale has taken great lengths to quickly pass all information to the community and to work with the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the 3M Corporation to effectively address this serious situation,” the statement said.
In cities like Cottage Grove, Woodbury and St. Paul Park, where PFBA has been reported, there’s far less clarity on what steps to take. Since the research on that chemical is in very early stages, it’s unclear what, if any, health effects it has.
Since there is no established Health Based Value for PFBA, those cities cannot request help from 3M, or the state for that matter, to pay for bottled water or for any new water treatment.
As a result, those cities are not providing much more information to their residents except what’s already been released by the state Health Department.
The advice that residents are getting about what steps they, themselves, can take is unclear as well. For example, some sources recommend using a charcoal filter on your home water faucet to filter out the PFBA. Other sources say such filters are not effective.