St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota)
April 24, 2005
Well-water concerns on tap
Trace pollutants from private taps prompting search for fixes
BY NANCY YANG and MARY DIVINE
Richard Eder sometimes still reaches to fill his glass with tap
water when he's thirsty. Then he realizes he can't do that.
The Lake Elmo resident lives in one of eight households in the
Tablyn Park area that must use bottled water after health officials
found an unsafe level of a contaminant in their well water earlier
"They recommended that we not drink or cook with the well
water … but I've caught myself once or twice," Eder
said. "I guess you always find it a little alarming."
The finding was one in a string of contaminated-water problems
in Washington County. Officials are working to alleviate concerns
and deal with the presence of trace amounts of chemicals believed
to contribute to cancer, liver and other organ problems, and birth
In Lake Elmo, city leaders and state health officials will hold
an open house this week at the Lake Elmo Elementary School to
discuss the matter and answer residents' questions. In Oakdale,
where low amounts of perfluorochemicals,
or PFCs, were found in January, the city posts updates on its
Web site and has hired a water consultant to monitor tests and
A confluence of factors — from large-lot suburban developments
served by private wells to the proximity of industrial waste —
contributed to the county's situation, said Ginny Yingling, hydrogeologist
with the state Health Department.
Yingling said she hopes new developments in the county will move
toward community rather than individual wells so the Health Department
can have better oversight over them. County officials are already
beginning to do so: The Washington County Board recently required
a community well to serve a new Baytown development.
"Anytime there's municipal oversight or some sort of oversight
where it's being routinely tested and under someone's watch, I
think from a public health standpoint, that's a much better option,"
said Cindy Weckwerth, program manager in the county's health department.
INCREASED TESTING ...
FILTERS, CITY SOURCES HELP
Health officials first tested for perfluorooctanoic acid, or
PFOA, at the former county landfill last summer and found low
levels on the landfill property. In August, small amounts of PFOA
were found in seven private wells near the landfill site, south
of Lake Jane in Lake Elmo.
The levels were not considered dangerous — the highest
level detected was 0.9 parts per billion; levels higher than 7
ppb are considered unsafe. Then in January, health officials said
that five municipal wells in Oakdale contained PFOA and perfluorooctane
sulfonate, or PFOS.
On average, less than 1 ppb of each chemical was found, which
is below the safety threshold for each.
Last month, health officials discovered trace amounts of both
chemicals in eight private wells in Tablyn Park.
Jim Kelly, a health risk assessor for the
Health Department, said the PFOS levels ranged from 1.2 ppb to
about 3.5 ppb; levels above 1 ppb are considered unsafe. Those
residents, like Eder, were given bottled water to drink.
Officials have since tested more than 140 private wells in the
area and expect results in the next month. They are also trying
to determine the source of the chemicals.
Two possibilities are the old landfill and the former Abresch
waste site near Minnesota 5 and Granada Avenue in Oakdale, Kelly
3M Co. used to dispose of the synthetic
chemicals — used to make protectants such as Scotchgard
— at both sites, Kelly said. 3M stopped production of the
two chemicals in 2000 because of concerns about the environmental
In Lake Elmo, private wells with unsafe
levels of PFCs will receive carbon filters, and the city is discussing
extending city water to that area.
For some residents, like Jennifer Keeler, whose well water tested
positive for the chemical, going without tap water is more of
a nuisance than anything else.
"We can't use ice cubes so we've had to buy ice …
and brushing your teeth, things like that — it's problematic,"
she said. "When I do the cooking, I sometimes forget and
start boiling water; then I have to pour it out and start over."
Kathy Henke, who lives nearby and has grandchildren who visit
often, said she's using bottled water even though she's not required
to do so.
"I certainly wasn't going to take any chances with my grandchildren,"
she said. "I'll stay on until I find out what the readings
IF YOU GO
An open house to discuss the groundwater situation in Lake Elmo
will be held this week.
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Lake Elmo Elementary School, 11030 Stillwater Blvd. N.
Nancy Yang can be reached at email@example.com or 651-228-5480.
Mary Divine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5443.
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