State health officials plan to idle a study of perfluorochemical (PFC) levels in Cottage Grove and other east-metro residents, but a legislative effort could reverse that decision.
The Minnesota Department of Health plans to wind down its monitoring of 3M-produced chemicals in a group of local citizens and divert funds to other public health research deemed “more pressing.”
The study changes are part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal for the next two-year state budget and were the result of recommendations from a health department citizen advisory panel looking at how to best spend limited research funds, said Dr. Jessica Nelson, the department’s biomonitoring program coordinator.
“It certainly doesn’t mean we would not come back in the future,” she said of the PFC research. “We know it’s still a concern in the community.”
The projects that would be funded instead include a study of mercury exposure in infants and children, following discovery of higher levels of mercury in young children in northeastern Minnesota.
The other biomonitoring project involves studying chronic respiratory problems such as asthma among people living in urban areas.
Since 2008 state health officials have monitored the presence of seven types of PFCs in a group of Washington County citizens who live near areas where the 3M-produced chemicals were legally dumped.
Those PFCs polluted drinking water and led to a multi-million-dollar remediation effort that began several years ago. Part of that work was aimed at protecting drinking water, which included adding filters and providing bottled water in some areas.
To test for PFC presence in the east-metro residents, blood samples were taken in 2008 from Cottage Grove and Lake Elmo citizens who had private well water and Oakdale residents tapped into city water supply.
They were found, on average, to have a higher concentration of PFCs in their blood than did the general population — in some cases two or three times higher.
A second analysis of blood samples taken in 2010 found that while their PFC levels still were higher than the general population, the levels of three key PFCs declined by up to 26 percent.
The health department does not plan to conduct another round of blood analysis, but it is completing a report based on results from an extensive questionnaire completed by the PFC biomonitoring study participants, Nelson said. The goal of that report, to be issued this spring and shared at a public meeting, is to better understand how people are exposed to PFCs.
Some want the PFC research to continue.
Sen. Katie Sieben, who pushed for the initial study and has raised concerns about the unknown health effects of increased PFC exposure, said it is too early to stop monitoring PFC levels.
“The point of environmental biomonitoring is not just to level the amount but also to help people understand what the impact of having increased levels means,” Sieben said.
Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said she soon will introduce a bill to spend $616,000 over the next two years to continue the PFC study.
“I think there are still questions around the safety of PFCs and whether the levels in residents continue to go down or are still,” she said.
Sieben added: “East metro, residents still have higher concentrations in their bodies than the rest of the population.”