Written by Anna Avila who works in BBJ Group's Minnesota office
On February 9, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) unveiled the new Minnesota Blueprint for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) prepared in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). This interagency guidance document serves as a roadmap for addressing PFAS contamination in the state by defining known information, identifying data-gaps, and proposing gap-filling measures. What this Blueprint makes clear, is that in order to address PFAS, a multi-pronged, holistic approach is needed along with several pieces of legislation, extensive investigative studies and multi-media monitoring programs. The Blueprint is built as 10 Issue Papers that discuss the various ways PFAS impact Minnesota, and what is needed to tackle the PFAS problem:
- Preventing PFAS pollution;
- Measuring PFAS effectively and consistently;
- Quantifying PFAS risks to human health;
- Limiting PFAS exposure from drinking water;
- Reducing PFAS exposure from consuming fish and game;
- Limiting PFAS exposure from food;
- Understanding risks from PFAS air emissions;
- Protecting ecosystem health;
- Remediating PFAS contaminated sites; and,
- Managing PFAS in waste.
Many of the gap-filling measures suggested within the Blueprint are bucketed into short-term objectives (within the next two years) and long-term (greater than two years). In total, 34 initiatives were suggested as actions the State may consider taking in the future. These proposed initiatives include conducting investigations and monitoring research, as well as legislative actions that can be passed. Some of the proposed initiatives are highly feasible, such as routinely compiling available toxicological information on PFAS. However, some are merely suggestions facing significant scientific, economic and legal challenges. For example, mandating the labeling of all products containing any PFAS may be difficult to implement.
Of the 34 proposed initiatives, these 7 legislative initiatives may be passed during the 2021 Minnesota State Legislative Session:
1. Conduct additional investigations of PFAS groundwater plumes downgradient of closed landfills.
Prior investigative studies have shown that landfills in the Closed Landfill Program (CLP), specifically those in the East Metro that previously received PFAS-contaminated waste from 3M, have high levels of PFAS in groundwater. The extent and boundaries of these plumes are not well understood and there is concern such plumes have migrated away from the closed landfills. This proposal would appropriate additional funding allowing CLP to conduct additional groundwater investigations to determine if remediation is required.
2. Conduct routine PFAS monitoring in fish.
The Fish Contaminant Monitoring Program (FCMP) regularly collects fish throughout the State to routinely monitor fish tissue for mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) along with infrequent sampling for other contaminants. However, low levels of PFAS in surface water can bioaccumulate in fish tissue to concentrations in excess of health-based values derived by the MDH. For example, a single unidentified facility releasing an estimated 0.4 to 1.0 gram of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) per year, through air emissions, is believed to have resulted in the PFOS levels of a nearby lake to be high enough to trigger a “do not eat” fish consumption advisory. Irregular studies have indicated 84% of Metro lakes and 22% of non-Metro lakes have detectable levels of PFOS in fish tissue. This proposal recommends that PFAS become a routine analysis along with mercury and PCBs in fish already collected by the FCMP, which would require the appropriation of additional funding.
3. Engage with WWTPs to identify industrial PFAS sources and opportunities for pretreatment.
People owning and operating wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) would be educated to identify PFAS inputs to their facilities and develop source reduction strategies. The plan to monitor effluent at WWTPs and implement industrial pre-treatment plans for PFAS mirrors similar efforts by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). This proposal is for the appropriation of funding to offset the costs of sampling to encourage WWTP participation.
4. Establish authority for MPCA to request data regarding contaminants of potential environmental concern.
This proposal would provide MPCA the authority to request toxicological and chemical information about PFAS from manufacturers that produce the compounds. Such information is often confidential and/or protected by proprietary rights. However, this information would allow investigators to respond to releases in a timely manner, assist risk assessors in determining the extent of possible exposures, and help laboratories prioritize the development of analytical methods based on the occurrence rates and risk models of certain PFAS. This proposal would not require additional funding to be appropriated, though the MPCA does not currently have the legal authority to request such information.
5. Conduct fate and transport study of biosolids following land application.
Land application of PFAS-contaminated biosolids is widely known to be a source of contamination to groundwater, surface water, crops and livestock. PFAS fate and transport mechanisms, however, are not well-understood. This proposal is for funding to be appropriated to study these processes. This study would require significant funding to be appropriated, though some aspects could be completed as isolated projects.
6. Formally define PFAS as hazardous substances under MERLA.
At the federal level, it has been proposed that PFAS be designated as a hazardous substance under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). PFAS are considered hazardous substances based on their properties under the Minnesota Environmental Response and Liability Act (MERLA). However, a formal designation would solidify the MPCA’s authority to investigate, remediate and recover costs from responsible parties who fail to respond at contaminated sites. This would require legislative action but would not require funding to be appropriated. Currently, the lack of an official ‘hazardous substance’ designation for PFAS causes the MPCA and the State of Minnesota to endure legal challenges when seeking cost-recovery for remediation of PFAS-contaminated sites. This designation would likely result in a reduction of current resource expenditures, such as legal fees, for the MPCA and the State. This bill was formally introduced to the Minnesota House on January 14, 2021 by Representatives Wazlawik, Hansen, R., Schultz, Franke and Freiberg (HF78).
7. Accelerate existing PFAS Pilot Inventory.
The purpose of the PFAS Pilot Inventory is to develop a comprehensive database of known PFAS-contaminated sites. A pilot study was conducted in four counties (Dakota, Olmsted, St. Louis and Sterns) to validate the protocol by testing for PFAS across media at high-risk sites. The Inventory would combine industrial activity information indicative of potential PFAS releases with PFAS monitoring program data. The results would be presented in a GIS format to assist with prioritizing investigations and remediation. Additional funding is needed to expand this program.
Follow us for subsequent blogs as we focus on areas of site characterization, analytical techniques, regulatory analysis and risk, toxicology, mitigation, and the impact of these substances on projects and environmental matters.
CAS No. 1763-23-1; https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Perfluorooctanesulfonic-acid