The chemical question

Since word leaked out a couple of years ago that chemicals once manufactured by 3M are infiltrating the water supplies in parts of Dakota and Washington counties, many people who live there only want to know one thing: is the stuff killing me and the kids?

A report issued by the Department of Public Health today (pdf here) doesn’t answer the question.

MPR reporter Lorna Benson, who’s responsible for much of the news coverage of this issue, says there doesn’t appear to be much new in the document.

The report says incidents of cancer in the area are “similar to the rest of the state or slightly lower.” According to an MPR story last month, a study of cancer rates among 3M workers is “inconclusive.”

Elevated levels of the chemical have been found in peoples’ blood in Oakdale and Lake Elmo, but while the Health Department says it may not represent a health risk, none of the language in the report is so declarative as to make many people sleep better, and it even conflicts with the headlines of a year or so ago, such as “3M Chemical Levels Safe In Water,” or “Suspect water in east metro safe to drink, agency says.”

And there’s this continuing advisory (link insertion is mine):

Nevertheless, those who may be especially concerned with their continued exposure to low levels of PFCs through drinking water (even at levels below the MDH HRLs or well advisory guidelines), such as pregnant women or parents with infants, can take additional steps to reduce exposure by using bottled water for drinking, cooking, or making formula, or by using point of use filters to treat water used for these purposes.

Here’s Lorna’s take on today’s report:

“If you’re fascinated with detective work, the report offers a pretty comprehensive review of the the PFC investigation so far. It lists countless details on the contaminated landfills in Oakdale and Lake Elmo and theories on how the chemicals spread into the nearby groundwater and drinking water. But if you’re desperate for firm answers on the health risk of drinking water containing PFCs you’ll have to wait – probably for quite some time. Health studies to date, conducted mostly by 3M, have mainly focused on laboratory animals or exposed workers. Scientists still know very little about how PFC exposure affects vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children. Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill last session that sets up a biomonitoring program to track PFC exposure in east metro residents. That study gets underway this summer. But it is limited to 200 residents and it has been criticized for only including adults. Some have predicted a potential explosion human studies as university researchers and graduate students become more aware of the PFC issue. Still, any findings from those projects would be many years away.”

  • Joel

    Whether 3M ever dumped toxins/pollutants in the water that MAY or MAY NOT harm people and or wild life is not the issue. I think the real focus should be on how to avoid dumping into our environment in the first place in all cases. Inevitably, something (or many somethings) happens.

  • Bob Collins

    I can tell you, as someone whose son drank the water there (he was allergic to milk) from the time he was 6 to the time he moved out at age 18, whether it’s harmful IS very much the issue.

  • Joel

    Your right Bob. I don’t mean to belittle the risks this issue has posed to people like you and your son. I think it’s reprehensible that any company or government would do or allow such a thing and then deny the fact of it and/or try to cover up the effects. What I meant to say was that I would hope people, government and businesses would be more inclined to find ways to make sure this sort of thing does not happen. Now that it has, I do agree that it is an issue, but I think the larger issue is how to avoid future events, such as this, from happening. Sadly we hear all too often stories of pollutants getting into our drinking water and other natural resources. I’m sorry to offend.

    (collins: Not offended at all. Of course the chemicals are coming from a time when the country thought nothing of taking barrels of waste and burying them in the ground. We’re a little more intelligent of how we dispose of waste now. So to that end, we’ve moved in the right direction. )