Lake Elmo residents whose private wells have been contaminated with perfluorochemicals (PFCs) will soon get a chance to find out how many of the compounds have accumulated in their bodies under a pilot biomonitoring program that Minnesota Department of Health officials will roll out later this month.
In the coming year, the MDH plans to collect and analyze blood samples from 200 adults who regularly consumed water contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA). The project aims to enroll 100 subjects with private wells and 100 who have been using Oakdale’s municipal water system.
“It’s a monitoring program, but instead of monitoring the environment, we’re monitoring the chemicals in people’s bodies,” said MDH environmental epidemiologist Jean Johnson, who oversees the project.
Local residents will have the opportunity to learn more about the study at three public meetings later this month. The first will take place at Lake Elmo Elementary (11030 Stillwater Blvd. N.) at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28, and similar meetings will be held in Cottage Grove on Jan. 29 and Oakdale on Jan. 30.
At the meetings, MDH representatives will outline their plans for the project and field questions from audience members. Study designers will then have the opportunity to revise their plans before submitting them to the MDH institutional review board for final approval.
If everything goes as expected, Johnson said residents with contaminated wells will receive a short survey in the mail within a few months. From the responses that come back, the MDH will randomly select 100 people who meet the selection criteria and invite them to participate in the study.
Johnson said she hopes to be collecting samples by mid-summer.
While the study will test both researchers’ ability to measure PFCs in humans and the state’s ability to administer such a program, it is not designed to measure the human health impacts of PFCs.
Maplewood-based 3M Corp. – which made the chemicals at its Cottage Grove plant until 2002 and disposed of them in several local landfills now thought to be the source of the groundwater contamination – claims more than 1,500 studies have failed to show that PFCs are harmful to humans at the levels found in the environment. In a lawsuit pending in Washington County District Court, however, more than 1,000 area residents say the chemicals are the cause of various ailments, including cancer.
Johnson said one of the most significant potential benefits of a long-term biomonitoring program would be its ability to measure the efficacy of past intervention and decontamination efforts.
“If we can indeed measure PFCs in humans, we would be able to track over time any changes in the levels in the population,” she said. “If some sort of intervention is put in place, we would hopefully see these levels coming down over time.”
In 2007, the Minnesota Legislature set aside $2 million over two years for a trial environmental health tracking and biomonitoring program. Johnson expects the initial PFC study will cost between $200,000 and $300,000. If the pilot is a success, she said the program could be expanded in coming years.
“California has a statewide biomonitoring program and Minnesota is looking into it, but they wanted to do something smaller-scale first,” Johnson said. “This program lets us do that.”
If nothing else, the biomonitoring program will tell a number of Lake Elmo residents exactly how many PFCs are coursing through their veins.
“For the individuals who choose to participate, there is some benefit: they will get information about any levels that we find in their blood, as well as any recommendations and advice we can give them about avoid future exposure to PFCs,” Johnson said.
MDH staff will present preliminary plans for carrying out the pilot project and solicit comments on the proposal at public meetings at three locations on three different dates: Monday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m. at Lake Elmo Elementary School, 11030 Stillwater Blvd. N.; Tuesday, Jan. 29, 7 p.m. at Cottage Grove City Hall, 7516 80th St. S.; Wednesday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m. at Oakdale City Hall, 1584 Hadley Ave. N.
More information on PFCs is available on the MDH Web site.