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New PFAS rules will impact Cloquet

News that the Biden administration finalized strict limits on certain "forever chemicals" in drinking water didn't come as a surprise to the city of Cloquet Wednesday. The new rule that will require utilities to reduce PFAS - or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances - in drinking water to the lowest level they can be reliably measured.

PFAS have been under discussion for the past decade or two in Minnesota, in large part because Minnesota-based company 3M is and has been one of the world's largest makers of PFAS. The chemicals are found in nonstick cookware, waterproof and stain repellent fabrics as well as food packaging, fire extinguishing foam and personal care products including some shampoos, dental floss and cosmetics. Even swimming or otherwise recreating in contaminated lakes or rivers can lead to an increased amount of PFAS in the body.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, different PFAS may impact health differently. The most consistently observed and strongest evidence for harmful impacts on human health is for immune suppression, changes in liver function, and lower birth weight.

The new rule sets strict limits on two common types - called PFOA and PFOS - at 4 parts per trillion.

"It's important to note that the new regulations are not a reason for panic," Peterson said. "The one well that was found to be contributing was at extremely low levels on the cusp of what is even scientifically possible to measure. After blending, there is no reason to believe water quality at the tap is at a level of concern."

Of the city's five wells, only well No. 8 scored above the new rule, at between 4.7 and 5 parts per trillion based on five tests over the past three years. The other wells are at or right around zero. Public Works director Caleb Peterson said Well 8 is about 20 percent of the city's water supply, confirming that no one is getting water exclusively from one city well.

Peterson estimated it will take 2-3 years for the city and state to determine the best option and associated costs. There is no obvious source of contamination, he said.

"At that point, we are hopeful federal and state funds will be made available to help offset any capital costs associated with the new regulations," he said.

Peterson said residents who are worried can research home treatment systems. Filters containing activated carbon or reverse osmosis membranes have been shown to be effective at removing PFAS from water supplies.

"If you are concerned, don't take my word for it," he said. "Go out and do some reading from reputable sources."

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