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Minnesota Legislature

Task force proposed to tackle problems posed by 'forever chemicals' in state's groundwater

Since the 1940s, a broad class of 5,000 synthetic chemicals have been used in everything from nonstick cookware to food wrappers to water-repellent clothing.

The man-made chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, don’t break down and can accumulate over time. They can migrate into the air, water and dust and exposure can lead to health problems ranging from thyroid disease to high cholesterol to cancer.

“What we don’t know really is the extent and scope of perfluoroalkyl chemicals in our environment,” said Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji).

He sponsors HF3268 to set up a task force that aims to address the issue.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, which Persell chairs, approved the bill Wednesday and sent it to the House Government Operations Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Funded with $150,000 from the General Fund, the task force would be charged, in part, to review information about locations where substances have been detected, create an interagency response plan, identify knowledge gaps, estimate mitigation costs and develop strategies and recommendations to meet a goal of reducing PFAS contamination. A report would be due annually to the Legislature.

“PFAS is going to be a very, very big issue in the 21st century,” said Greta Gauthier, assistant commissioner for legislative and intergovernmental relations at the MPCA.

Effects of PFAS are evident in Persell’s hometown.

A new $2 million well is being dug in Bemidji after the city had to stop using two of its five wells and blend the water of the other three to stay under the chemical level considered safe by the state. Its wells are next to the airport, where firefighting foam used in training contains the chemical.

The House Commerce Committee approved HF3180 Tuesday to ban PFAS in food packaging. Its next stop is the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee.

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