Pumping 60,000 gallons of water per day, Minnesota tests ‘forever chemicals’ removal technology

When manufacturer 3M dumped ‘forever chemicals’ in the East Metro, it led to Minnesota’s largest known PFAS contamination and compromised the drinking water of thousands of people. The state’s pollution control agency is now currently testing new technology officials hope will help clean up existing contamination.

MPCA Senior Hydrogeologist Rebecca Higgins showed FOX 9 the SAFF technology which is set up in a mobile shipping container near Lake Elmo.

"We’re looking to remove as much PFAS as is possible, so we’re going to see what the system can do especially when you put it out in the real world," Higgin said.

The test focuses on the state’s largest known PFAS contamination involving 3M. It contaminated the drinking water of more than 170,000 people in the East Metro and led to a multimillion-dollar settlement.

The SAFF technology was shipped from Australia with a price tag of $750,000, which was paid for with 3M settlement money.

Higgins says the idea behind the water treatment is fairly simple in theory. 

"You can add air to water and simply make it foam – and the PFAS wants to be in the foam so it agitates up into that foam, and then we can physically remove that from the water," Higgins said. 

The system is currently pumping about 60,000 gallons of groundwater per day to run through the technology. The same process will be repeated with surface water when it thaws.

"Once we have the results from this test, we’ll be able to tell whether this is truly showing any kind of efficacy for scale-up – for bringing it into a broader context," Higgin said.

While the state’s pollution control agency is continuously gathering and testing treated water samples, Higgins said it could be several months before they know how well the system is working and whether it can practically be scaled up to fit the East Metro’s needs.