A sample taken at the Brainerd municipal wastewater treatment facility by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this spring found an elevated level of a toxic chemical, a perfluorinated chemical or PFC compound, in the wastewater.
Until the source of the contamination is found, Brainerd's application to expand its wastewater facility has been put on hold, it was learned Friday afternoon.
If the city does not receive a permit for the expansion from the MPCA in August and because of a change in rules regarding interest rate calculation on the improvement bonds, the cost to build the treatment facility would increase by more than $5 million, according to Brainerd and Baxter city officials.
Paul Hoff, supervisor of the MPCA's environmental reporting and special studies unit, said there were 28 wastewater treatment plants that were sampled in April and the results from Brainerd's facility were significantly higher than the other facilities surveyed. Brainerd's sample, which went through a quality assurance process, was 1.5 parts per billion of perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS. Hoff said the main treatment plant in the Twin Cities had a .11 ppb level of the compound. The St. Cloud test was .007 ppb.
An expansion project at the Brainerd Public Utility's Wastewater Treatment Plant will be delayed after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals in its wastewater during a spring sampling. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Hoff said there is no immediate health concern as a result of the finding.
"We don't know why Brainerd's discharge shows higher levels or where any of the potential sources are at this point," said Hoff. "We intend to find out."
Hoff said the MPCA will be conducting additional samples at Brainerd's wastewater treatment plant to find out where the source is coming from and why the compound level is so high. MPCA officials also will test fish and water from the Mississippi River in the vicinity and work with the wastewater plant staff to design a plan to determine the source of the PFC compound.
Tom Phelps of Brainerd Public Utilities said he learned Friday that the plant's wastewater had high levels of PFC.
"It's unfortunate that this is going to delay our expansion project," said Phelps. "But we intend to work with the MPCA to track down the source."
Baxter city officials also said they learned of the problem Friday. Dennis Coryell, Baxter city administrator, said the test was surprising and the result disappointing to the city.
"It's not time to panic yet," he said.
Both Brainerd and Baxter city officials said they will proceed with independent testing as well. Baxter officials said they also will ask for companion samples of any future MPCA samples.
"Obviously, we're concerned, very concerned," said Dan Vogt, Brainerd city administrator, about the PFC level found in the sample. "The environmental impact is a huge concern to the city. The financial implications of holding up our permit to rebuild our facility to a state-of-the-art wastewater facility are very large."
Hoff said MPCA officials are confident that the sample taken in April is accurate. He said the compound is found in products, such as Scotchgard and shampoo.
Hoff said having this high level of this chemical compound in the wastewater poses no immediate health danger to residents. Brainerd's source for drinking water is groundwater and not the river, Hoff said. If the compound levels stay high in the treated wastewater, Hoff said a long-term concern is the fish may not be safe to eat out of the river. The concern, because nobody is drinking this water, is more about long-term exposure as a result of bioaccumulation of the chemical, which is magnified through the food chain. Bioaccumulation occurs when an organism absorbs a chemical at a higher rate than it is eliminated or lost.
Hoff said the Minnesota Department of Health reports that eating fish is healthy, but people should make wise choices about which fish to eat and how often.
He said the MDH intends to test drinking water in Brainerd as well as St. Cloud, which does draw its drinking water from the river.
A sampling done by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the Brainerd Public Utilities' wastewater treatment facility this past spring found elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals in its wastewater. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Hoff said the MPCA plans to delay its decision about Brainerd's request for a permit to expand its wastewater treatment facility, which was scheduled to be considered Tuesday by the MPCA's Citizen's Board. He said the agency wants to learn more about the situation before a permit for the expansion is approved. Hoff said a updated, modern treatment facility would benefit the community and the environment but before the permit can be processed, this problem needs to be addressed.
"We understand how important this decision is for Brainerd and we plan to work as fast as we can to find the source," said Hoff.
The wastewater treatment plant expansion was expected to be completed by 2009.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, PFCs are a family of manmade chemicals that were used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. The chemical structures of the compounds make them extremely resistant to breakdown in the environment.
In drinking water, the state's maximum level of PFOS is 0.05 parts per billion.
According to the U.S. EPA, some commercial uses of PFOS include: fabric coatings, carpet coatings, paper coatings, floor polish, alkaline cleaners, denture cleaners, shampoos, firefighting foam, aviation hydraulic fluid, mining/oil well surfactant, acid rust suppressant, metal plating, electronic etching bath and ant/roach insecticides.
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