Feb. 13, 2007: Wary residents want answers on 3M groundwater pollution

  • Article by: Tom Meersman
  • Star Tribune
  • March 30, 2007 - 11:57 AM

Citizens peppered state health and pollution control officials with questions Monday in Cottage Grove about contaminated groundwater in the east metro area.

They wanted to know whether to drink water from their taps, whether to install filters, whether the state Department of Health plans to test their private wells and whether Cottage Grove can receive help if it needs to improve its municipal water.

The community meeting in Cottage Grove, attended by about 200 people, was the first of several sponsored by the Health Department.

Another meeting was held Monday night in Hastings, drawing about 75 people.

Last month, health officials detected PFBA, a chemical formerly manufactured by Maplewood-based 3M Co., in the municipal wells of Woodbury, Cottage Grove, South St. Paul, Newport, Hastings and St. Paul Park.

Annette Bach, who grew up in Cottage Grove and whose mother still lives there, wanted to know what filters would remove the chemical from the family's private well.

She also was angry with 3M, which she said should be made to pay some of the costs.

"They have polluted the groundwater. I don't know what the pussy-footing around is all about," she said.

Robert Newby of Cottage Grove, who also has a private well, said he's concerned but not alarmed.

"I'd like to see things moving a little faster here," he said of the investigation. "I've got to know if my water's going to be good."

Bill Royce, another resident with a private well, said he's worried not only about the groundwater but also about living in a community near 3M's plant that manufactured the chemicals for decades. "There's a lot of people in Cottage Grove who've died of cancer," he said.

Health officials have said that there are no immediate health risks from drinking the water, but that little is known about long-term exposure to the chemical. They said that residents who are concerned may wish to use bottled water for part or all of their drinking or cooking needs, or to install filters containing granular-activated carbon.

Jim Kelly, of the Health Department's environmental health division, said PFBA levels were found at up to 1.8 parts per billion (ppb) in Cottage Grove wells and up to 2.3 ppb in St. Paul Park's water. The other communities had concentrations below 1 ppb, which is the well advisory guideline that the Health Department uses to notify the public.

The likely source of the contamination is 3M's Woodbury landfill, located on the border between Cottage Grove and Woodbury. The company has said that it buried PFBA and similar wastes there from 1960 to 1966. 3M manufactured it as one of several compounds called perfluorochemicals at its plant in Cottage Grove from the 1950s until 2002. The chemicals were used in a variety of products such as stain removers, lubricants, fire retardants, nonstick cookware and film.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials notified 3M on Feb. 1 that the company needs to take steps quickly to determine more about the extent of the pollution and how it can be stopped.

Cottage Grove Mayor Sandy Shiely said the information meeting was the first of several that she expects to convene. She said the Health Department needs more time to study the problem and determine how serious it may be, and citizens need to know that the city is staying on top of things.

"What we're trying to do is play the waiting game without panicking," she said. .

Tom Meersman - 612-673-7388 .

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