Willmar Municipal Utilities
has opted not to join a class-action lawsuit for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as
PFAS or 'forever chemicals,'
which are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.
Fluoropolymer coatings can be in a variety of products, including clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces and the insulation of electrical wire, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Many PFAS, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are a concern because they do not break down in the environment, can move through soils and contaminate drinking water sources and build up (bioaccumulate) in fish and wildlife.
PFAS are found in rivers and lakes and in many types of animals on land and in the water.
"We have found some of those within a couple of test wells. They were well below any kind of dangerous levels," Willmar Municipal Utilities Commissioner Shawn Mueske informed the WMU Commission at its Jan. 8 meeting. "A lawsuit, nonetheless, has been put forward and we had to make a choice here to either opt-in or opt-out, or to not respond. After lengthy discussions [at the WMU planning committee meeting] about the pros and cons of those things, it was the recommendation that we opt out of that lawsuit because we truly don't have adverse levels."
He noted that foregoing the class action lawsuit at this time allows WMU to enter another lawsuit in the future if PFAS levels ever do rise to dangerous levels in Willmar's water.
Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain, according to the CDC. Studies of laboratory animals given large amounts of PFAS indicate that some PFAS may affect growth and development.
Animal studies have indicated PFAS may affect reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injure the liver, according to the CDC. Descriptions of studies regarding PFAS exposure and its health effects can be found at
More research is necessary to assess the human health effects of exposure to PFAS, according to the CDC.
WMU Commissioner Bruce DeBliek asked if there is an option to rejoin the lawsuit if WMU changes its mind.
WMU General Manager John Harren explained that there is not an option to rejoin the current lawsuit, but it leaves the option for future litigation open if WMU ever has elevated PFAS levels of concern in its water.
"By staying in the lawsuit today, we are giving up our right to any type of litigation in the future," he said. "That's the way the lawsuit is put together. So, anybody who stays in has given up any recourse we might have. That's why we elected to opt out of it, because our levels in our water are mixing undetectable, but they are there."