'Red alert' in Lake Elmo due to chemicals in water supply

The City of Lake Elmo has issued a red alert over a high level of chemicals in the town's drinking supply, with officials saying they're taking a well and a water tower out of service this week to address the issue.

Recent information from the Minnesota Department of Health showed high perfluorochemical levels in the city's No. 1 well, while in recent days other area residents have complained of brown water in their homes. 

"This has been a burden on the people of Lake Elmo," said Justin Bloyer, the town's interim mayor. "We’ve identified a well that is contaminated we’re taking it off line."

The chemicals in question first gained notoriety as an ingredient in Scotchguard and other products made by Twin Cities-based company 3M, who agreed to pay $850 million--the largest environmental settlement in state history--last month over the company's dumping of PFCs in the east Metro. 

As a result, Lake Elmo has been plagued with water issues for years, filing multiple lawsuits city leaders ultimately hope will help fix some of the problems caused by groundwater contamination in the area. Time, however, is running out on a solution.

"With two wells we believe that we can go between one and two years, and then we’ll be over capacity," Bloyer said. "[After that] we won’t be able to provide water to anyone."

In order to correct this week's problems Lake Elmo is taking both well No. 1 and water tower No. 1 offline while increasing pressure from two other wells, planning to flush both offline systems at a high water pressure  Wednesday morning in an attempt to rid it of chemicals. Crews are also flushing hydrants across the city sporadically and instruct residents to run cold water for roughly 10 minutes Wednesday afternoon until the water clears.

Meanwhile, trust in the city's water supply is waning--whether it's declared safe or not.

"It's kind of scary," Nancy Sauer of Lake Elmo said. "I’ve been hearing a lot about the water issues and that it’s very dangerous to be drinking so I just buy bottled water for me and my kids."