After six east-metro legislators heard updates from state officials Thursday about Washington County groundwater contamination, a Lake Elmo resident expressed his desire that 3M Co. waste at a former county landfill near his home be removed or incinerated.
“The Lake Elmo landfill has been a complete and total failure from the beginning,” James Blackford told legislators during a hearing at Woodbury City Hall.
From 1969 to 1975, Ramsey and Washington counties used the 35-acre landfill, near Lake Jane, as a garbage disposal site. 3M also used the site to legally dump materials, including the chemical PFBA, a coatings compound used in photographic films and other products.
State officials have elected to clean up the landfill by digging out the waste, lining the landfill and burying the waste again. Blackford said that approach is covering a problem instead of eliminating it.
“I think it’s morally reprehensible that our generation is not paying its own way with respect to pollution,” he told the legislators.
But Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, said that it was important to do something now instead of waiting years to secure funding to move the landfill.
She and Rep. Julie Bunn, DFL-Lake Elmo, co-authored legislation last session that secured $25 million in revenue bonds for cleanup of four landfills in Washington County. In addition, 3M has agreed to contribute $8 million.
Public concern over contamination emerged in 2007 when 3M chemicals were found in the drinking water of six east-metro communities. PFBA is most widespread in southern Washington County groundwater, although two other chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, have been detected in a small portion of Cottage Grove.
The news caused alarm among residents and public officials, but the Minnesota Health Department determined in March that concentrations of the chemical in groundwater weren’t high enough to be harmful to drink. In addition to film, PFBA was used to make products such as nonstick cookware and fire-suppression foams.
Blackford also alleged that 3M knew the extent of the contamination in Lake Elmo decades ago but failed to take action. “People need to understand that 3M has not been a good corporate citizen on this issue,” he said.
After the meeting, 3M spokesman Bill Nelson disagreed.
“To say that we knew about this in 1980 was not accurate,” he said. Technology to detect PFBA chemicals in groundwater, he said, wasn’t available until the mid- to late 1990s. He also said that 3M is taking the matter seriously and the millions of dollars the company is spending for cleanup is evidence of that.
Thursday’s hearing included updates and presentations on water filters, underground movement of the chemicals, and well monitoring. At least 1,420 private wells have been sampled in Washington, Dakota and Ramsey counties, said Jim Kelly of the Minnesota Department of Health. Eighty-four drinking water advisories remain in effect, but 49 of those should be rescinded soon, he said.
In addition to Saltzman and Bunn, other legislators attending were Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury; Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove; Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, and Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood.