Read the full article by Chloe Johnson (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“The bright blue shipping container stood out in the snow-covered landscape of Lake Elmo’s Tablyn Park. Inside, contractors calibrated a machine that state officials hope could help solve a decades-long pollution problem in the east metro area.

Within the trailer, groundwater will be pumped into large black drums that are topped with clear blue cylinders. Air will be injected into the water to create bubbles — and in the upper chambers, the machine will collect a foam that’s brimming with toxic chemicals collectively known as PFAS. The decontaminated water will then be pumped back underground.

‘The hope here is that we are able to reduce the spread of PFAS, so that we can reduce the number of necessary treatment options on wells,’ said Rebecca Higgins, a senior hydrogeologist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. ‘It’s protecting this groundwater resource for current and future generations.’

Minnesota has spent millions filtering the drinking water in communities where PFAS lingers in the groundwater. This new effort is meant to remove the industrial chemicals from the environment.

At full power, the surface activated foam fractionation, or SAFF, system should be able to process 60,000 gallons of water a day, Higgins said. The processing would strip out 5 gallons of a concentrated chemical soup, which will be analyzed by scientists looking for 40 different formulations of PFAS.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated substances, were pioneered by Maplewood-based 3M in the 1950s. They are used widely to suppress fires, repel water, fend off stains and make nonstick cookware. But the same carbon-fluorine bonds that make the compounds useful also make them extremely difficult to destroy, earning them the name ‘forever chemicals.’

Research linked some of the PFAS chemicals to kidney cancer, reduced immune responses, low birth weights and changes in the liver, according to the MPCA.

Pollution problems in the east metro have been well-known for years. PFAS leached out of dumps 3M used for its Cottage Grove chemical plant and was found in drinking water in Lake Elmo, Woodbury, Oakdale and Cottage Grove through the early 2000s. The chemicals are still popping up in unexpected places around the east metro from time to time — such as the discovery two years ago that they had concentrated in foam along two creeks.” …