ST. PAUL, Minn. — While the chair of the Town of Campbell on French Island near La Crosse is not happy with the water standard limits set by the Wisconsin DNR policy board on PFAS, Minnesota also taking up the issue in another way.
A Minnesota House committee Wednesday considered three bills that would ban a family of chemicals known as PFAS, sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment, from cosmetics, cookware and ski wax.
The three bills, expected to be heard in the House Commerce Committee Wednesday afternoon, follow a successful effort last legislative session to ban the forever chemicals from food packaging.
Democratic Rep. Ami Wazlawik, of White Bear Township, the bills’ author, said in an interview that the proposals continue the work started last session an state pollution control officials continue to find traces of the chemicals all over the state.
“The more we can do to prevent further PFAS contamination from getting into the waste stream, from getting into landfills and from having exposure to our human bodies through these products, the better off that we’ll be because these chemicals accumulate,” Wazlawik said. “That’s sort of the urgency of it — these chemicals are called ‘forever chemicals’ for a reason.”
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a broad term for manmade chemicals that were designed to make products resistant to heat, oil, stains, grease and water. Low birth weight, kidney and thyroid issues are among health problems linked to some PFAS.
The chemicals found their way into the drinking water of several Minnesota communities statewide after years of chemical disposal by Maplewood-based 3M Co., prompting an $850 million settlement in 2018 between the state and the company. Decades of dumping contaminated the groundwater in the Twin Cities’ eastern metropolitan area.
3M also paid $12.5 million to the northern Minnesota city of Bemidji to build a new water treatment facility after the chemicals were discovered in the city’s wells, believed to be caused by firefighting foam used in training exercises at the city’s airport.
Last summer, Minnesota pollution control and natural resources officials unveiled a plan using $700 million from the settlement to build or update six water treatment plants, treat 33 municipal wells and connect almost 300 homes to municipal water systems while providing home filtration systems to residents with private wells.
Opponents contend that the language in the bills describing the chemicals is too broad and would apply to hundreds of items with different properties. They also contend the federal government should be regulating the use of the chemicals. Among the opponents of the legislation are manufacturing groups like the Association of Home Appliances, which produces hundreds of millions of cookware that would be banned under the proposal.
“It is not a chemical class that can be regulated as a one size fits all,” Tony Kwilas of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce told lawmakers.
Wazlawik said the federal government is not doing enough or acting quickly enough, and that Minnesota taxpayers — not the companies producing the products — ultimately pay for the cleanup of forever chemicals in their drinking water.
The cosmetics and ski wax bills each passed in the committee Wednesday on a 10-7 vote along party lines while the cookware bill saw Republican Rep. Cal Bahr join Democrats in passing it 11-6. All three are headed for their next committee stop.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
— WIZM contributed to this story