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Minnesota issues plan to treat water marred by 3M chemicals

August 18, 2021 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota pollution control and natural resources officials on Wednesday released a $700 million plan to improve the drinking water for 14 Twin Cities communities whose groundwater was contaminated due to decadeslong chemical disposal by 3M Co.

The long-term plan aims to build or improve six water treatment plants and treat 33 municipal wells while connecting nearly 300 homes to municipal water systems and providing home filtration systems to residents with private wells in the meantime. It’s an effort to remove a family of chemicals known as PFAS, sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment, which have affected an estimated 174,000 residents in a 150-square-mile area.

“This plan protects drinking water now, and into the future,” said Kirk Koudelka, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “The result is a plan that is comprehensive, safe and sustainable, resilient and flexible, to address the growing communities’ needs and an ever-changing PFAS world.”

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Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — chemicals developed by Maplewood-based 3M and designed to make products resistant to heat, oil, stains, grease and water — made their way into the groundwater in the Twin Cities’ eastern metropolitan area following decades of dumping into the area’s landfills by the company. Some PFAS have been linked to health problems including low birth weight, kidney and thyroid issues and some cancers.

The funding for the projects stems from an $850 million settlement between the state of Minnesota and 3M in 2018 for damage to the state’s natural resources. The agencies have developed the plan in the three years since the settlement through work group meetings and comments from the public.

Koudelka said during a news conference Wednesday that the timeline for the projects will depend on each community, but he estimated that all affected communities should have improvements completed within 10 years.

In a statement to The Associated Press, 3M spokesman Sean Lynch said the plans are “an important step in fulfilling 3M and the State of Minnesota’s long-term goals for the environment and community” and that the company looks forward to its continued work with state officials. The Minnesota Water Well Association also expressed support for the plan in a statement, calling it a “good step forward” for well owners in the area.

“Many communities and families prefer to stay connected to their wells and this plan largely allows them to do so,” said Dave Schulenberg, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Now, as we move towards its implementation, it’s important we come together to connect well owners with the resources they may need in order to provide clean water for their families.”

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.