Some 3M money now up for grabs for local water projects

Keith Rapp pours filtered water into a filtered water bottle.
Keith Rapp has an elaborate filtering system he uses to ensure his water is as free of PFCs as possible. He has two filters in his refrigerator, which he then uses to fill a filtered jug, and then pours that water into a filtered water bottle.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News 2018

A plan for how to spend Minnesota's $850 million settlement with 3M over damage to the state's natural resources is still in the works.

But state agencies are making $25 million available for accelerated projects that tackle long-term drinking water solutions in the east Twin Cities metro.

Anyone can apply for the grants, including local governments, businesses, nonprofits and individual residents, said Walker Smith, spokesperson for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

"There might be some opportunities to use some of the settlement money to fund projects that will ultimately help reach long-term solutions to the drinking water problems in that part of Washington County," Smith said.

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Residents with private wells that were contaminated already should have a temporary safe water supply, either bottled water or an in-home filter, Smith said. But the grants aim to provide a more permanent solution.

An example could be hooking up a neighborhood with contaminated wells to a city water supply, Smith said.

"A lot of these communities have some pretty good thoughts about what their needs are for the future, so we'd like to take advantage of those now," he said.

The groundwater contamination comes from chemicals that are part of a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, found in products ranging from nonstick cookware to firefighting foam.

PFAS were manufactured beginning in the 1950s for a variety of products, including nonstick cookware, stain and water repellents for clothing and furniture, food wrappers and firefighting foam.

3M manufactured PFAS at its plant in Cottage Grove for decades, beginning in the 1950s.

The company legally disposed of its waste containing perfluorochemicals in landfills in the eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities metro area. The chemicals leached into the groundwater in nearby cities like Woodbury, Oakdale, Cottage Grove and Lake Elmo.

About 20 years ago, studies found that PFAS were showing up around the globe: in water, soil, wildlife and even in humans. Scientists are still studying the health effects of the chemicals, but research has linked prolonged exposure to PFAS to health problems including some cancers, thyroid disease and infertility.

In 2010, Minnesota sued 3M for natural resource damages. The high-profile case settled last year when 3M agreed to pay $850 million to provide safe drinking water and clean up contamination in the east metro.

Applications for the grants are due by May 25. Smith said the MPCA will issue grants by late summer or early fall.

The 3M working groups are expected to complete a plan for the settlement spending by the end of December.