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Posted on: December 21, 2022

Council Perspective: State considering health standard changes for PFAS

Filling glass with water from sink

By Mayor Anne Burt

Long atop the city's list of priorities is to assure that we have sufficient and highest achievable quality of drinking water now and into the future. We also know from our 2022 community survey results that this is your top concern. 

As we have frequently communicated, the city has given tremendous attention to water quality over the last decade as we wrestle with the growing impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in our groundwater aquifer. Throughout this time, we have been keeping you informed as we continue to implement temporary and permanent solutions. I am glad to tell you that we have made significant progress, yet the dynamic nature of water quality assessment and associated health standards continues to have impacts on our water system. I'd like to share more with you about where things now stand.

In the mid-2000s, PFAS were found to have contaminated drinking water supplies in parts of the eastern Twin Cities, including in Woodbury's groundwater supply. Since then, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) developed health standards for PFAS. Currently nine of our 19 water production wells are impacted with PFAS levels exceeding the state's health standards. That means these wells have detectable levels of PFAS that on repeatable occasions exceed one or more thresholds established by MDH. When water in a well exceeds health standards, MDH issues a health advisory on the well. While not required, as a precautionary action city wells that receive health advisories from MDH have been removed from service until treatment can be applied. 

Since receipt of the health advisories, six of the wells have returned to service with treatment at our temporary water treatment plant initially constructed in 2020 and expanded in 2022. At this time, Woodbury's drinking water continues to meet state standards and guidelines for PFAS.

City anticipating changes to PFAS health standards

PFAS, like other emerging contaminants, are the focus of active research and study, which means that new information is released frequently. The more that is learned about the chemicals the more specific and clear regulations will be developed. 

The city is aware that MDH and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are expected to release new, more stringent statewide health standards for PFAS sometime in 2023. Those new health standards may impact how we operate our water system. Contingency planning for such an event is currently underway. For example, recently we approved the purchase of additional temporary treatment equipment to be installed in 2024 at up to three additional existing well sites. 

We will continue working with MDH to monitor, assess, and sample our water for PFAS. If new health standards are established and additional health advisories are issued on wells, we may have to continue using some of the untreated wells in a limited manner on a rotational basis and mix that water with treated water in order to continue to meet community demand, particularly during the summer months. We are consulting with state agencies and water experts in exploring this and other actions that may support effective operation of the municipal water system. The public will be informed if/when new advisories are issued.

To be clear, the quality of the water is not changing. What is likely to change is water quality standard(s) for some PFAS chemicals by MDH and EPA, the two organizations the city takes direction from on drinking water quality. The state agencies have indicated to us that once the EPA announces its final proposed health advisories for some PFAS chemicals, MDH will follow with its own updated health-based values. This will include providing direction to communities across Minnesota about what the EPA proposed final health advisories and MDH health-based values might mean for drinking water supply systems. 

Under the EPA process, communities across the country will have an opportunity to provide public input about the new EPA final proposed health advisories for PFAS, and time to comply with the formalized final new standards.

The well production loss due to PFAS will continue to strain the city's water supply system, particularly during summertime peak demand, until the permanent water treatment plant is operational. It remains critical for all of us to continue practicing efficient use of the water supply, and increased watering restrictions may be needed in the summer months. To help us manage peak water demand, consider installing a smart controller for your irrigation system. These smart controllers are available at a discounted rate each year through the city's Smart Irrigation Program.

Plans for permanent PFAS treatment

The temporary water treatment plant capacity is needed until the permanent water treatment plant is fully operational. The permanent water treatment plant and approximately 14 miles of piping (from city wells to the plant and back out to the community) are expected to take approximately five years to design, construct and complete. We have completed preliminary design work, including identifying pipeline alignments to and from the new facility. Surveying work in the future pipeline areas is underway. Pipeline construction, following completion of formal design, may begin as early as 2023, with permanent water treatment plant construction beginning sometime in 2024. 

In addition, two new water production wells are being constructed: one to make up for a well that was permanently removed from service due to PFAS contamination and another to respond to anticipated and planned growth in the community. 

About PFAS

The 3M Company began making PFAS at its Cottage Grove facility in the late 1940s. PFAS wastes were disposed of at multiple sites in Washington County. The source of the PFAS in Woodbury's groundwater has been identified as these disposal sites.  

In 2010, Minnesota's attorney general sued 3M for accountability and funding to address the PFAS issues. On Feb.20, 2018, the State of Minnesota settled a lawsuit against 3M in return for a settlement of $850 million to address PFAS in east metro area groundwater. Other communities in the east metro are joining us in requesting money from this settlement to make improvements to their water supply.

We've been working with state agencies to fund both short-term and long-term drinking water system improvements, and continue to advocate for allocation of this funding along with seeking federal, state and other funding sources.

I assure you this is a top priority for us and we are doing everything we can to provide treatment of the water as quickly as possible. As an advocate for the residents of Woodbury, we will focus on always doing what's right, but this will take time. We continue to strive for our goal of delivering the best water possible and remain committed to the long-term health of our community. 

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