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Minnesota cities seek assistance from legislature to clean up PFAS in their communities

Minnesota cities seek lifeline to clean up “forever chemicals”
Minnesota cities seek lifeline to clean up “forever chemicals” 01:54

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nineteen Minnesota cities and towns have levels of PFAS — synthetic "forever chemicals" now ubiquitous in the environment — that exceed new federal guidelines for drinking water, and three of those communities are seeking support from the legislature this year to assist with their clean-up efforts.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which issued the rules, says that there is no amount of exposure to these chemicals that is safe for the health of residents. But more than 202,000 Minnesotans statewide have drinking water over the agency's limit, according to data from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Among the places impacted by high levels of the contaminants are Hastings, Sauk Rapids and Woodbury. Local officials there on Monday testified before the House Capital Investment Committee about their multi-million dollar projects to destroy the chemical and make water safe for residents. 

Each of them hopes their requests will be included in an infrastructure package in the legislature this year.

"Hastings' entire water supply has been compromised, which means all 23,000 of our people are feeling unsafe for drinking their water," said Hastings Mayor Mary Fasbender. "We all know that we've exceeded our federal law, and we would appreciate any assistance you can give."

Hastings is seeking bonding support for just over a third of its nearly $69 million project to create three permanent treatment plants for PFAS. Without that boost from the legislature, the city's public works director said the costs would be passed on to consumers in "budget-busting" water rates.

"Our water rates would really need to be doubled in two years, tripled in four years. And that would continue with a 250% increase over the next 10 years, placing Hastings water rates at the top of the metro and among the highest in greater Minnesota," Ryan Stempski, the public works director in Hastings, told lawmakers.

But cleaning up PFAS is an expensive problem nationwide that the legislature alone cannot fix. 

The federal government is making funding available to communities that are not in compliance with its new EPA rule and many cities are eligible for a payout stemming from a lawsuit against 3M, the manufacturing giant based in the east Twin Cities metro. Still, those dollars fall short.

Scott Kyser, an engineer at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, told the House panel Monday that its study of PFAS in the state puts the price tag for statewide treatment anywhere from $12 billion to $25 billion. The latter number is nearly one-third of the total two-year state budget this biennium. 

It's why Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis wants to require that the MPCA study ways the state might be able to collect fees on manufacturers who create the chemicals but also the manufacturers that use the chemicals in their products to shore up funding for PFAS clean-up. 

"We want to make sure that if you're manufacturing this that you have a responsibility to help pay for some of these costs of infrastructure to the public," he said.

Last year, lawmakers banned PFAS use in some consumer products beginning next year with a full phase-out by 2032.

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