Littlefork Groundwater Investigation: Minnesota Dept. of Health

Littlefork Groundwater Investigation

This fact sheet summarizes information about the groundwater investigation conducted in June 1996 in Littlefork, Minnesota. It does not provide a comprehensive discussion of all available technical information or of all health issues related to the site. More detailed information can be found in 1995 and 1996 reports on the site completed by the Minnesota Department of Health.


Map of Little Fork

In June 1996 the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) tested drinking water wells in Littlefork, Minnesota. The purpose was to look for well contaminants associated with the Littlefork Groundwater Contamination Site, which includes a one-square mile area

on the east side of the Little Fork River. A gas station and a dry-cleaning business were formerly located in this area, and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) records indicate they are probable sources of the groundwater contamination. The purpose of the MDH investigation was to evaluate exposure to contaminants in residential wells, and to determine whether the city wells are vulnerable to contamination from the site.

The results of MDH well testing show that the city wells and city water supply in Littlefork have not been contaminated by the site. However, sampling results show that volatile organic compounds, including tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene

(TCE), have affected several residential wells in Littlefork. MDH, MPCA, and local officials are working together to address health concerns at the site, including investigating options to assist residents whose well water is contaminated.

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What were the results of the June 1996 MDH investigation?

In June 1996 MDH sampled 15 drinking water wells as part of a groundwater investigation in Littlefork. Each well sample was tested for more than 60 chemicals by the MDH laboratory.

The results show that six of the wells contain volatile organic compounds, including PCE and TCE. Levels at two of the wells slightly exceed the MDH "health risk limit" for PCE in drinking water, which is seven micrograms/liter. Drinking water that contains a chemical at or below a health risk limit (HRL) is considered safe to consume for a lifetime. MDH issued a drinking water advisory for wells in the area that contained levels of PCE above the HRL. The department then notified the residents to use an alternative water supply (either bottled water or water from the city's well) for drinking and cooking.

MDH also tested the city wells in Littlefork to determine whether they are contaminated. This included testing for volatile organic compounds, and a pumping test to determine if the wells are vulnerable to contamination in shallow groundwater. The results show that the city wells have not been contaminated, and that they are unlikely to become contaminated in the near future.

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Are there any health risks from the site?

MDH is primarily concerned about the possibility that people might be exposed to contaminated drinking water from their private wells. Residents whose well contamination level exceeded the HRL for PCE have been advised to use an alternative drinking water supply. However, some residential wells contain low levels of PCE that do not exceed the HRL of seven micrograms/liter. MDH is concerned about the possibility that some people may be exposed to higher PCE levels if the contamination in their wells increases and the level approaches or exceeds the HRL. Therefore, the department has made several recommendations (see below).

The health effects of breathing contaminated air or drinking contaminated water that contains low levels of PCE (levels that are below the HRL) are not known. Results from studies conducted with animals who consumed much higher amounts of PCE than most people are exposed to, show that PCE can cause liver and kidney damage, and indicate that PCE may be cancer-causing. More research is needed to determine the effects of PCE on people at low concentrations.

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What is being done about the site?

MPCA, MDH, and local officials are working together to address health and groundwater concerns related to the site. This includes investigating options to assist residents whose well water is contaminated. Currently, MPCA is attempting to identify funding sources to assist local officials in providing access to city water in the residential area south of Second Avenue. Littlefork residents are encouraged to contact Littlefork City Clerk, Dale Peterson (218-278-6710) for information about connecting to the city water supply.

Since the contamination was first discovered in 1993, several Littlefork residences have been connected to the city water supply. Currently about 90% of Littlefork residents use city water. Local officials are taking steps to ensure that the people of Littlefork continue to receive safe drinking water.

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What protective actions does MDH recommend?

MDH has made several recommendations for preventing or minimizing people's exposure to contaminated groundwater. These recommendations are:

  • Littlefork residents should obtain their drinking water from the city water supply, or have their private wells monitored each year for contaminants. Private wells which are contaminated and are no longer in use should be properly sealed.
  • As a routine precaution, the City of Littlefork should continue to test the municipal wells annually for volatile organic compounds, including PCE, TCE, and other groundwater contaminants related to the site.
  • MDH, MPCA, and local officials should coordinate efforts to distribute information to surrounding communities regarding site activities, and should encourage residents to connect to the city water supply. These efforts may include distributing fact sheets, conducting public meetings, and communicating in other appropriate ways with residents.

Public health reports (September 1995 and Fall 1996) on the Littlefork Site are available from MDH. To request copies, or for additional information about the groundwater investigation, please contact us.

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Updated Friday, September 16, 2011 at 03:43PM