Tests Find Notorious ‘Forever Chemicals’ at Elevated Levels in Drinking Water at Minnesota Army Base

Tests Find Notorious ‘Forever Chemicals’ at Elevated Levels in Drinking Water at Minnesota Army Base

Thursday, September 12, 2019

WASHINGTON – Drinking water supplies at a Minnesota National Guard facility were contaminated with elevated levels of highly toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, according to newly released Department of Defense data obtained by EWG under the Freedom of Information Act.

The site is Camp Ripley, a 53,000-acre military and civilian training center operated by the Minnesota National Guard between Brainerd and St. Cloud, just west of the Mississippi River. 

The detections occurred in 2017. The drinking water at the base was contaminated with multiple members of the class of toxic chemicals. Some PFAS have been linked at very low doses to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, thyroid and kidney disease, and other health problems.

Nationally, the data provided through the FOIA added 90 current and former Army and Army National Guard installations to the list of locations that are contaminated with PFAS chemicals. They raise the number of Army installations with known PFAS contamination of drinking water or groundwater from 18 to 108, and the total number of military installations with known contamination from 207 to 297.

Click here to see the complete list.

The newly listed Minnesota site was not contaminated with levels of PFAS above the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion, or ppt.

But the EPA’s advisory level is 70 times higher than the 1 ppt safe level found by some independent studies and endorsed by EWG. Some states have set limits ranging from 11 ppt to 20 ppt.

The levels of PFAS detected in drinking water at the installation was far higher than 1 ppt. The amount of PFAS detected was 18.39 ppt.

Compounds detected in the drinking water at both locations included the two most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, once used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. Both were phased out under pressure from the EPA after studies found links to cancer, harm to the reproductive and immune systems, and other health problems.

PFAS contamination in Minnesota drinking water sources has been an ongoing problem, much of it caused by the chemical giant 3M, which is headquartered in Maplewood, Minn.  In 2018, in response to a lawsuit brought against the company by the then-attorney general of the state, Lori Swanson, for polluting groundwater with PFOA, 3M agreed to pay $850 million.

PFAS chemicals have been detected in the drinking water of 19 million Americans in 49 states, and unreleased EPA data show that up to 110 million people may have PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

“The level of PFAS found in the drinking water at Camp Ripley is far higher than most experts believe is safe for people,” said EWG Senior VP for Government Affair Scott Faber. “The service members and civilians who work and train at the base and others who live nearby are likely drinking water contaminated with PFAS chemicals at amounts that could pose serious health risks. But this is a national problem that deserves a national response, and it is up to Congress to take the necessary steps to require polluters like the defense department and 3M to clean up this mess.”

In June, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which contains a number of critical PFAS monitoring and cleanup amendments. Included was one that requires the Pentagon to phase out, by 2023, the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam and require military facilities to meet state cleanup standards. 

In July the House passed its version of the act, with several PFAS amendments, including one that would designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law.

Negotiators from the House and Senate are hammering out a final version of the defense spending bill. EWG is pressing lawmakers to include all of the PFAS amendments in the bill Congress sends to President Trump for his consideration.

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The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.