Contaminants of Emerging Concern
Protecting Minnesota’s Water Resources
What is the CEC Program?
Through this program, MDH is investigating and communicating the health and exposure potential of contaminants of emerging concern in drinking water. The program supports the Clean Water Fund mission to protect drinking water sources and the MDH mission to protect, maintain, and improve the health of all Minnesotans.
What are contaminants of emerging concern?
A contaminant is generally a substance that is in a place where it doesn’t belong. Contaminants of emerging concern are substances that have been released to, found in, or have the potential to enter Minnesota waters (groundwater or surface water) and:
- do not have Minnesota human health-based guidance (how much of a substance is safe to drink);
- pose a real or perceived health threat; or
- have new or changing health or exposure information.
They can include pharmaceuticals, pesticides, industrial effluents, personal care products that are washed down drains and processed by municipal wastewater treatment plants, and others.
Why are we studying contaminants of emerging concern?
New contaminants are being found in Minnesota waters. This is due, in part, because:
- there are better methods for finding substances at lower levels;
- additional substances are being looked for;
- new substances are being used; and
- old substances are being used in new ways.
The work of this program helps MDH understand the potential health effects of these contaminants.
How is this different from other MDH health-based guidance programs?
MDH currently develops human health-based guidance for contaminants that have already been found in groundwater in Minnesota. Under the CEC program, MDH takes a proactive approach to the protection of drinking water by considering contaminants that:
- have been found in groundwater, surface water, or soil; or
- have not been found (or looked for) in Minnesota at all.
Additionally, this program provides information on how people are exposed to these contaminants. These differences separate the work of this program from MDH’s other guidance work and supplements existing work.
2016 Process Review by the University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota recently completed a review of the Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) program’s chemical selection process. The review of the CEC program was the result of a legislative mandate (Laws of Minnesota 2015, Chapter 2, Article 2, Section 8(a)) and the University of Minnesota has submitted a report to the Minnesota Legislature.
The review included fact gathering about the MDH CEC program, a literature review of scientific articles related to chemicals of emerging concern and processes for chemical screening, analysis of similar programs, and evaluation of the CEC screening process by a panel of scientists and by a panel of stakeholders. Although the University of Minnesota team discussed its recommendations with the scientists and stakeholders and with MDH, the recommendations are the product of the University of Minnesota team.
The overall conclusion was that the MDH CEC program is sound but that MDH needs to improve and clarify several steps in the process. The report further identified twelve recommendations that fall into three broad categories: improve communication and enhance transparency; increase stakeholder engagement; and modify and clarify the chemical screening and selection process.
The CEC Program appreciates the University of Minnesota’s efforts and thorough review of the chemical selection process.
The full report is available here: Review of the Minnesota Department of Health Contaminants of Emerging Concern Program Process for Selecting Chemicals (PDF).
The report appendices are available here: Review of the Minnesota Department of Health Contaminants of Emerging Concern Program Process for Selecting Chemicals: Appendices (PDF).
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