Read the full article by Brady Slater (Duluth News Tribune)
“In Lake Superior, the sediment at the bottom of its watery depths tells a story.
It’s where things settle and accumulate, including contaminants. In its way, the sediment serves as a historical record of the lake.
In core samples, research scientists can see when concentrations of, say, mercury were highest, and how now-much-lower concentrations at the top layers of the sample means the contaminant is no longer being so heavily put into the lake.
But time and human ingenuity accumulate, too, and legacy contaminants are not the only toxins worthy of concern. There are new contaminants that appear to be stressing the lake.
‘We are approving using chemicals in the United States, and we really don’t react to it until we start to see the problem,’ said Bridget Ulrich, an aqueous geochemist with the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute. ‘With PFAS, it’s the same story.’
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are known as ‘forever chemicals’ found in coatings that keep your burger’s cheese from sticking to a wrapper. It’s in firefighting foam. Scores of industries use PFAS in scores of ways, sometimes as an additive, sometimes a coating. Sometimes in aerospace.
When built up in the human body, the substances are increasingly known to have a variety of adverse health effects, including high cholesterol, low birth weights and cancer, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s PFAS profile.
This promises to be a year the collective understanding of PFAS increases in the communities of people locally who strive to understand the lake, and contaminants working to degrade it.
In February, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will release a blueprint for PFAS outlining gaps in knowledge and policy, while also laying out how to fill those gaps.
It’s the first expected guidance from the agency since Minnesota learned of PFAS contamination early this century, when substances made by 3M Co., ‘polluted more than 150 square miles of groundwater across southern Washington County, affecting the drinking water of 14 communities and more than 170,000 Minnesotans,’ according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The big-picture result was an $850 million settlement from 3M, along with untold personal outcomes…”