Minn. Looks for Firefighting Foam Chemical in Water

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will sample drinking water supplies at sites around the state where it is possible that the use of firefighting foams has resulted in perfluorochemicals (PFCs) seeping into the ground.

A type of foam used to fight fires, Class B firefighting foam, contains PFCs. These Class B foams have been effective in fighting petroleum spills and fires that threaten public health and safety. However, at several fire-training facilities, where repeated use of these foams has occurred, PFCs have been found in the soil and groundwater. Thus, use of Class B firefighting foams may have an impact on drinking water supplies, especially if the training facility is near a well.

In 2008, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began surveying fire departments to determine where firefighting foams have been used in training around the state. Along with MDH, which is responsible for ensuring safe drinking water, the MPCA identified a number of sites throughout Minnesota for further testing in 2009. The testing will include analysis of soil, groundwater, and sediment samples as well as drinking water samples, both from private wells and from water delivered by public water supplies, such as municipal systems.

The testing sites will include specific areas in Apple Valley, Bemidji, Brooklyn Center, Burnsville, Cloquet, Goodview, Luverne, Perham, Pierz, Pine River, Randall, Richfield, Rochester, and Winona. In addition, two sites, North St. Paul and Cottage Grove, have already been sampled as part of early monitoring done in Washington County. MPCA will be sampling at fire training sites, where it is not likely that municipal wells will be affected, at Alexandria, Bemidji, Brooklyn Center, Burnsville, Claremont, Cottage Grove, Fridley, Goodview, Harmony, Kenyon, Luverne, Myrtle, North Mankato, North St. Paul, Pierz, Preston, Richfield, and Rochester. The agency will sample at four additional locations where there are no nearby municipal wells at risk: Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, Marathon Refinery in St. Paul Park, Flint Hills Refinery in Rosemount, and Duluth International Airport.

MDH has developed health-based exposure limits, the level considered safe for people to drink over a lifetime, for three PFCs. If sampling determines that the levels of PFCs exceed the appropriate limits, recommendations for further actions to protect public health will be made. At this time, there is not enough scientific information to set limits for the other PFCs.

"We want to know what is in the water," said John Linc Stine, director of the MDH Environmental Health Division. "Although we consider the likelihood of finding PFCs in the water supply wells to be low, it is prudent to perform this testing."

As the results of sampling from wells, soil, and groundwater become available in the spring and summer, updated information will be included at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/pfcshealth.html.