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Lawmakers consider removing hurdle in holding PFAS polluters accountable

An obstacle to holding companies responsible for pollution caused by the family of "forever" chemicals at the center of the $850 million settlement between the state and 3M in 2018 could be removed.

Perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, used in products like nonstick cookware and fast-food wrappers, have been found in water bodies and wells in Duluth, Bemidji and the east Twin Cities metro. The latter is where 3M allegedly damaged drinking water and 150 square miles of land by manufacturing PFAS.

House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee 02/04/21

The chemicals, which don't break down in the environment, could be correlated with higher cholesterol, reduced immune response and kidney and testicular cancer, according to the Department of Health. But because they aren't officially designated a "hazardous substance" under federal law, legal challenges can slow state orders to clean them up, Pollution Control Agency Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka said.

HF78, sponsored by Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Township), would define PFAS as hazardous under the state's superfund law, which Koudelka said could speed up the cleanup process.

The bill would also direct the PCA to establish water-quality standards for PFAS and would provide $492,000 to help that process.

It has 11 co-sponsors, including Republican Rep. Keith Franke (R-St. Paul Park), and was laid over Thursday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee.

Its companion, SF156, is sponsored by Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

Opponents of the bill, which include the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said any PFAS designation should be more specific, given the family includes more than 4,000 chemicals.

Leaders of city and county groups said the bill could open them up to lawsuits when PFAS-contaminated water and sewage pass through city wastewater plants and landfills.

Koudelka said the bill is focused on ensuring that companies releasing PFAS into the environment clean them up.

Amendments from Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin) that would have shielded governments and wastewater facilities from liability were both rejected on 10-9 votes.

A second bill sponsored by Wazlawik, HF79, which would regulate PFAS in food packaging beginning in 2023, was approved 16-3 and sent to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee. The companion, SF70, is also sponsored by Bigham and awaits action by the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee.

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