NW Metro Cities Grapple With ‘Forever Chemicals’ and Water Supply
Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park both have busy water treatment plants, providing residents and travelers alike with clean drinking water.
But like many water treatment plants in the state, they don’t have equipment to remove so-called “forever chemicals.”
“They call it the ‘forever chemical’ for a reason,” said Jay Murzyn, utility operations engineer for the city of Maple Grove. “It is a chemical that has been around since the 40’s and 50’s.”
With the scientific name per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — they’re a group of man-made chemicals that don’t break down naturally in the environment.
“They’re in common household products,” said Dan Ruiz, director of operations and maintenance for the city of Brooklyn Park. “Shampoo, carpet, nonstick pans. If you name it and it has plastic components in it, those are PFAS chemicals.”
Health and PFAS
Although these chemicals are common in our modern existence, the Environmental Protection Agency says exposure to these chemicals may cause health issues.
Exposure can come from drinking water or eating food contaminated with PFAS, breathing air containing PFAS, and using products that are made with PFAS, the EPA says.
Likewise, according to the EPA, exposure to PFAS can result in increased cholesterol levels, interference with hormones, and increased risk of cancer.
In many cities, small amounts of these chemicals have been found in the water supply.
“We did have some results come in positive,” Murzyn said. “The water is absolutely safe to drink.”
Brooklyn Park is in a similar situation.
“We’ve had two sample tests done so far,” Ruiz said. “And yes, we’ve had some slight detections of PFAS in our water wells. Now, rest assured, all the water leaving our water treatment plant is under the [EPA] proposed standards of four-parts per trillion.”
Brooklyn Park, Maple Grove Eyeing Settlements
Meanwhile, 3M is one of many companies that produces PFAS, although they have announced plans to discontinue their production by 2025. The company is facing a class-action lawsuit related to PFAS in sources of drinking water. The company expects to pay about $10 billion to settle the suit.
Dupont also expects to pay a $1 billion settlement.
As a result, cities across the nation with PFAS in their water sources — including Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove — may get a payout.
While Murzyn noted that the settlements haven’t been finalized, based on available information, he estimated Maple Grove could expect to see about $7 million through the 3M settlement.
Brooklyn Park expects to get in the $5-6 million range.
“We would hold onto that money and consider using that for treatment options,” Ruiz said.
Even if the settlements are approved in court, it could take years for any city to get access to the settlement funds.
Likewise, the settlement won’t cover the costs the equipment needed to remove PFAS.
“It could be upwards of $70 million,” Ruiz said. “No city can afford this all by themselves without doubling or tripling their water rates — and we did nothing wrong.”
So, more lawsuits may be on the horizon.
“We’re going to explore options to try to recover more funds through litigation,” Ruiz said.
But, in lieu of state or federal grants, cities may have to decide for themselves if they want to foot the bill for PFAS water treatment.
It may be an expensive ask to preserve our most essential resource.
“As staff, we recommend to treat down to zero because we want the water to be as completely safe as possible for our residents and businesses,” Ruiz said.