Closed landfills locally among nearly 60 with PFAS contamination

Tim Krohn, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·4 min read

Mar. 18—Gofer Landfill, north of Fairmont in Martin County, has the dubious distinction of having the highest detected level of PFAS contamination among all closed landfills in the state.

It is one of 59 closed landfills in 41 Minnesota counties with more than 10 times the state health guidelines for PFAS. Called "forever chemicals," the man-made PFAS have been linked to cancer and are found everywhere in lakes, rivers, drinking water, on the land and in fish.

At Gofer, which was closed in 1986, PFAS detected in groundwater was a staggering 1,343 times above the state health risk guideline.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials released the findings during a press conference Thursday. It comes after the MPCA and other agencies and groups recently unveiled an ambitious PFAS Blueprint aimed at finding the sources of contamination, cleaning up affected sites and preventing further contamination.

Kirk Koudelka, MPCA assistant commissioner, said that while PFAS chemical contamination hasn't been detected in drinking water sources near the Gofer Landfill, more study is needed.

"We really do need to perform a complete assessment."

Koudelka said more research would determine specific sources of PFAS in the landfill and determine ways to contain and reduce the contamination.

While PFAS contamination has been detected in a creek adjacent to the Gofer Landfill, the MPCA said all drinking water wells within a mile of the landfill have been tested and PFAS was not detected.

MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop said that PFAS was detected at 98 out of 101 closed landfills.

"Once again, our assessments tell us that PFAS is everywhere in our environment. That's why the agency needs more flexibility and tools to rapidly respond to these urgent contamination incidents."

Four other closed landfills in the Mankato region had PFAS levels of 10 times or higher than health guidelines.

—The Faribault County Landfill was 21 times over guideline limits.

—The Watonwan County Landfill was 19 times over.

—The Minnesota Sanitation Services Landfill in Le Sueur County was 19 times over.

—The Tellijohn Landfill in Le Sueur County was 13 times over.

The closed landfills took a wide variety of waste and, unlike currently operating landfills, were not lined.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have long been used in a wide array of products, from food packaging and fabric sprays to solar panels and cosmetics.

Industry groups say companies are using alternatives when possible, but the MPCA says new forms of PFAS chemicals continue to be produced.

The PFAS Blueprint includes immediate, short- and long-term strategies that state agencies, the Minnesota Legislature, industries, and local governments are asked to consider to prevent, manage, and clean up PFAS contamination.

One of the immediate actions is to deal with contamination at closed landfills and develop plans to monitor PFAS in groundwater in active landfills.

Officials say part of the solution is installing pumping systems that control the movement of water and reduce contamination. The MPCA plans to conduct feasibility studies to determine how best to treat groundwater and leachate contaminated with PFAS.

Legislative debate

Many of the proposals in the PFAS Blueprint require approval and funding from the Legislature and several bills are being debated.

One contentious issue is the MPCA's hope to designate PFAS as a "hazardous substance" in state law.

That's drawing opposition not just from industry groups but also from city leaders who fear designating PFAS as a hazardous substance would open cities to lawsuits.

The MPCA is also seeking authority from the Legislature to use funds in the Closed Landfill Investment Fund. Currently the agency must wait until the Legislature is in session and appropriates funding before responding to a serious contamination incident, a delay agency officials say could put communities at risk.

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said his sense is that lawmakers are concerned and want more study but probably aren't in the mood for specific regulations at this point.

"We are not sure this is a serious, immediate public health crisis, but we have concerns," he said, noting PFAS are potentially linked to cancers and other illnesses.

"The PCA report tells us we have a lot to do to analyze these landfills."

Frentz said there's agreement that PFAS leach into the ground and water, but says the science needs to determine what the impacts are.

"We want the Pollution Control Agency to be empowered to study it. It's a real issue. I think the PCA is in the best position to learn about it."