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Andover Residents With Contaminated Drinking Water Are Frustrated, Want Answers

ANDOVER, MINN. (WCCO) -- Residents in an Andover neighborhood with well water that tested for high levels of a cancer-causing chemical say they are frustrated, and want more answers from state and local officials about the contamination, and what it means for their health.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency conducted a study testing drinking water in the Red Oaks neighborhood over the summer and found 40 homes with private wells had levels of dioxane, a toxic waste product, higher than health risk limit -- the threshold for safety. The municipal water, though, is clean to drink, the MPCA said.

Dioxane is a likely human carcinogen, the Minnesota Department of Health detailed in a recent two-sheet explainer of the Andover study.  It's unclear how long residents have been exposed, the document said.

Betsy Berg, who has lived in her Red Oaks home for 35 years, said she was notified by phone in August that her water was contaminated at a level that exceeded the health department's limit. The state has coordinated deliveries of five-gallon water coolers to those impacted, including Berg who has used that to drink and cook for weeks.

She said communication about what's next and what's safe in the meantime has been insufficient. She never received anything in writing, she told WCCO Monday.

"There's been no communication," Berg said. "It's very frustrating because you don't know if you're even safe to bathe in it, to be honest."

Monika Dipert, Berg's neighbor, echoed her frustrations. The levels of dioxane in her home were far and above the rest of her block, at 2,000 micrograms per liter. Anything above 1 microgram per liter creates health concerns, health officials said.

Dioxane Water Contamination In Andover
(credit: MPCA)

She questioned the long-term effects on her health because she had consumed the contaminated water for over a year since buying her home in March of 2020.

"They said never, never, never, ever had they seen a value that high," Dipert said.

In response to these concerns, MDH spokesperson Doug Schultz pointed to the two-sheet document answering frequently asked questions, and said the MPCA has handled most of the communication those impacted.

He also said MDH made its hazard phone line and email address available for people with questions, "but has received only a very small number of calls since the situation began."

Parts of the Red Oaks neighborhood touch the now-closed WDE landfill, which is considered one of the most harmful in the state. In 2019, Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials announced the beginning of a cleanup effort at that site.

But the MPCA said the source of the toxic chemical found in the water is still under investigation, and that it is collecting more samples in order to determine "the extent of the contamination."

There is a virtual meeting scheduled for next Thursday night with residents and state and local officials to answer locals' questions, though Dipert and Berg have been pushing for it to be in-person so more people can access it.

"I knew the number would speak for itself," Dipert said of the contamination in her water. "I would assume that they would do everything possible to protect me from damage to my body."

When asked if she felt that had happened, she replied: "Absolutely not."

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