Minnesota PFAS: $45 million requested in Walz budget to combat ‘forever chemicals’

Reducing cancer-causing chemicals found in everyday household products and water are the focus of several political efforts this legislative session, and the result of more than $45 million in additional budget requests.

On Thursday leaders from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Department of Health (MDH) provided updates to the public on the state’s progress on addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals" – outlining priorities included in Gov. Tim Walz’s recent budget proposal.

Walz's One Minnesota budget request includes a $45.57 million investment in the state’s capacity to prevent, manage, and clean up PFAS pollution.

"Preventing, managing, and cleaning up PFAS is a priority for the state of Minnesota," said MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler Thursday, noting the last two years Minnesota has coordinated with several agencies to work on its PFAS blueprint. "Our strategy is a three-pronged approach."

The request includes $25 million for MPCA statewide grants to support drinking water systems, $10 million to build lab and health guidance capacity for PFAS, $4.4 million for assistance to businesses and local government with reducing PFAS, $4.1 million for 13 additional "PFAS blueprint capacity" staffing, $1 million to support ongoing water-quality monitoring and $910,000 for fish contamination assessment.

"Protecting Minnesotans requires much greater prevention, and additional resources only the Legislature can provide," said MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff Thursday.

PFAS are human-made chemicals that have been widely used for decades and do not break down in the environment. Human exposure to these chemicals over time has been linked to an elevated risk of negative health outcomes, including certain cancers, immune suppression, changes in liver function, and lower birth weights.  

The chemicals are used to manufacture household items, including non-stick cookware, carpeting and waterproof clothing. 

However, the chemicals do not deteriorate naturally, and have since been linked to serious health problems including an increased risk of cancer.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter), H.F. 1000, would also prohibit PFAS in certain products and require a disclosure for users when permitted.

"It’s corporate greed that got us to this point, and we need to turn off the faucet on PFAS in our state," Brand said on Thursday.

In October 2022, the Minnesota Department of Health announced it was conducting a statewide initiative to collect, test and monitor drinking water from every single community water system in the state.

The department also launched an online dashboard to relay confirmed results to the public.

Currently, 370 – or 23.9% – PFAS Community Water Systems have been tested, while 543 (73.6%) remain in progress.

The definition of what is considered safe is subject to change by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which could lower the regulatory threshold for PFAS.

Future changes in regulations could mean even smaller traces of the chemicals could deem a water source unsafe.

Historically, the eastern Twin Cities metro is notorious for its problems with PFAS chemicals after manufacturer 3M dumped waste throughout the area and contaminated the drinking water of thousands of Minnesotans.