The Potluck

Bill would help build waste facility to treat PFAS in northeast Minnesota 

By: - February 6, 2023 4:04 pm

3M still manufactures PFAS at this plant in Cottage Grove. Photo by Chad Davis

A new bill would help spur the development of a lined landfill in northeast Minnesota that proponents say would be able to treat “forever chemicals.”

Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, introduced a bill that would direct $4.5 million to St. Louis County for a facility to treat per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Studies have shown the chemicals accumulate in the environment and the human body and are toxic. 

After a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency official talked about the agency’s monitoring program during a House committee hearing, Lislegard expressed frustration with regulators’ tendency to study things forever.

“I’ve been watching permits and everything be study, study, study. I don’t want to study it to death,” he said. “Sometimes you just gotta move.”

The MPCA approved the county’s pilot study for the proposed treatment system last spring. 

His bill (HF1152) would help pay for St. Louis County to design and construct a facility with an “engineered manufactured wetland” to reduce PFAS chemicals. The money would come from the sale of bonds and the bill would be effective immediately after enactment.

St. Louis County commissioners have long planned a new landfill to replace another one whose permit sunsets in 2027, and hope to get $20 million from the Legislature, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

The MPCA announced in 2021 that the chemicals have contaminated almost every closed landfill it oversees; 98 of the 101 closed landfills tested had chemical contamination in the groundwater. Most of the landfills are unlined.

The chemicals are made by Maplewood-based giant 3M, which announced in late December plans to stop producing the chemicals and stop using them in products by the end of 2025. Other companies still make the chemicals.

MPCA spokeswoman Andrea Cournoyer said although the bill isn’t included in the governor’s budget proposal, the agency is generally supportive of the county’s effort to build a treatment system to address PFAS leaching from landfills. The results could help determine whether it’s a long-term solution for landfills around the state, she said.

Updated at 7:25 p.m. Monday to include MPCA position.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.