The chemical question

Since word leaked out a couple of years ago that chemicals once manufactured by 3M are infiltrating the water supplies in parts of Dakota and Washington counties, many people who live there only want to know one thing: is the stuff killing me and the kids?

A report issued by the Department of Public Health today (pdf here) doesn't answer the question.

MPR reporter Lorna Benson, who's responsible for much of the news coverage of this issue, says there doesn't appear to be much new in the document.

The report says incidents of cancer in the area are "similar to the rest of the state or slightly lower." According to an MPR story last month, a study of cancer rates among 3M workers is "inconclusive."

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Elevated levels of the chemical have been found in peoples' blood in Oakdale and Lake Elmo, but while the Health Department says it may not represent a health risk, none of the language in the report is so declarative as to make many people sleep better, and it even conflicts with the headlines of a year or so ago, such as "3M Chemical Levels Safe In Water," or "Suspect water in east metro safe to drink, agency says."

And there's this continuing advisory (link insertion is mine):

Nevertheless, those who may be especially concerned with their continued exposure to low levels of PFCs through drinking water (even at levels below the MDH HRLs or well advisory guidelines), such as pregnant women or parents with infants, can take additional steps to reduce exposure by using bottled water for drinking, cooking, or making formula, or by using point of use filters to treat water used for these purposes.

Here's Lorna's take on today's report:

"If you're fascinated with detective work, the report offers a pretty comprehensive review of the the PFC investigation so far. It lists countless details on the contaminated landfills in Oakdale and Lake Elmo and theories on how the chemicals spread into the nearby groundwater and drinking water. But if you're desperate for firm answers on the health risk of drinking water containing PFCs you'll have to wait - probably for quite some time. Health studies to date, conducted mostly by 3M, have mainly focused on laboratory animals or exposed workers. Scientists still know very little about how PFC exposure affects vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children. Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill last session that sets up a biomonitoring program to track PFC exposure in east metro residents. That study gets underway this summer. But it is limited to 200 residents and it has been criticized for only including adults. Some have predicted a potential explosion human studies as university researchers and graduate students become more aware of the PFC issue. Still, any findings from those projects would be many years away."