Minnesota Joins Intensifying Hunt for PFAS

By Joshua Poertner, Andy Davis, Whitney Cole and Brett Shanks

State and federal agencies continue to step up efforts to identify and regulate sources of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of man-made, environmentally persistent chemicals used in a wide range of consumer products and industrial processes. On November 21, 2019, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced that it would expand its search for PFAS sources beyond known contaminated areas—mainly the east side of the Twin Cities—to waters in Dakota, Olmstead, Stearns and St. Louis counties in Minnesota. According to reporting, the MPCA will evaluate waters in these counties near a broad range of industries, including paper mills, fabric mills, metal finishing workshops, leather and hide tanning workshops, and airports. 

MPCA plans to test waters near target industries in early 2020. Because PFAS are persistent in the environment, MPCA’s significant expansion is likely to affect a number of companies who are unaware that they or their predecessors used PFAS. According to the MPCA, “the goal is to make sure we know in Minnesota theoretically where it could be used, and check on it just to make sure we’re not having any gaps.”

In addition, the U.S. Congress is continuing to debate a large number of PFAS regulation bills. The issue of how to regulate PFAS is also slowing the conference of the Department of Defense appropriation, a bill that “must pass” before the end of the year. The House version of that bill would list certain PFAS chemicals as Superfund wastes, which has the potential to expand liability considerably for military and private users alike. Some House members are separately demanding that the EPA comprehensively regulate PFAS. For its part, the EPA is moving forward with its PFAS Action Plan, releasing the Systemic Review Protocol, and promising to move forward on setting standards for some classes of PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

PFAS awareness is spreading quickly among both the public and regulatory entities. Regulators in other states in Stinson’s footprint, such as Missouri, Colorado and Arizona, have also shown increasing interest in understanding and regulating PFAS. The new film "Dark Water" will introduce many Americans to the emerging issue of PFAS contamination and likely increase scrutiny on companies who manufactured or used them. Minnesota’s efforts are part of a nationwide trend by individual states to more aggressively address PFAS contamination. These efforts are likely to have a significant impact on a wide range of industries, including those involving cleaners, textiles, leather, paper, paints, wire insulation and fire-fighting foams, among others.

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