Waterline Spring 2010 - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

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Stew Thornley

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Oakdale Plant Removes PFCs

Filters at the Oakdale Water Plant
A treatment plant using granular-activated carbon to remove perfluorochemicals (PFCs) went on-line in Oakdale in 2006. The plant was built after sampling by the Minnesota Department of Health indicated the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate in some of the city’s wells. See below for the entire story.

Minneapolis and St. Paul among Top-Rated Utilities in EWG Study

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released the results of a study it performed on contaminants found in public water systems serving populations greater than 250,000.  Using monitoring data from 2004 to 2009, the EWG ranked 100 utilities based on the total number of chemicals detected since 2004, the percentage of chemicals found of those tested, and the highest average level for each pollutant compared with legal limits or national averages.
Minneapolis Water Works was ranked 10th best, and St. Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS) was ranked 17th.
Chris Catlin, Superintendent, Water Plant Operations for Minneapolis Water Works, said the utility’s high ranking is a “testament to the pristine watershed we have.”  Catlin also noted their chloramination process, which minimizes disinfection byproduct formation, as well as a highly trained and committed operations and maintenance staff.

SPRWS water quality supervisor Jim Bode said they have invested wisely in their treatment plant and added that their ranking is “a reflection of a good partnership between St. Paul Water and the Minnesota Department of Health.”  Bode cited the help they have received from the Health Department (MDH), in particular the assistance the utility has received from MDH engineer Lih-in Rezania in dealing with the Lead and Copper Rule.  Although the EWG study focused only on regulated contaminants, not taste and odor issues, Bode said that the improved aesthetic qualities of St. Paul’s water have been important.  “It’s easier to say it’s good to drink our water now that [taste and odor] things are cleared up.  There’s some distrust out there when the water smells bad or tastes bad.  We know it was safe, but, from a public perspective, it’s a tougher sell.”

The Environmental Working Group’s Top 20 Utilities

  1. Arlington, Texas
  2. Providence, Rhode Island
  3. Fort Worth, Texas
  4. Charleston, South Carolina
  5. Boston, Massachusetts
  6. Honolulu, Hawaii
  7. Austin, Texas
  8. Fairfax County, Virginia
  9. St. Louis, Missouri
  10. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  11. Richmond, Virginia
  12. Dallas, Texas
  13. New York, New York
  14. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  15. Buffalo, New York
  16. Cincinnati, Ohio
  17. St. Paul, Minnesota
  18. Sacramento, California
  19. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  20. Odessa, Florida

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Drinking Water Protection Profile: Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings is a public health engineer for the Minnesota Department of Health, working primarily with Lead and Copper Rule Compliance.  He will also be assisting MDH district engineers with various field work.  Joe previously worked as a regional engineer in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s feedlot program out of the Rochester office.  His duties included plan review, construction inspections, permit writing, complaint follow-up, and air quality program development.
Joe lives in St. Paul with his two dogs, Gunnar, a five-year-old German Shorthair, and Duke, a four-year-old, 100-pound Weimaraner.  He spends his free time playing frisbee with the dogs or on the ice playing hockey.

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Drinking Water Quality Report Now Available

A report on Minnesota drinking water, Drinking Water Quality—Community Water, Data & Measures 1999 -2007, is now available. Drinking Water Quality, prepared by the Minnesota Environmental Public Health Tracking program, a program within MDH, reports on concentration trends for lead, disinfection byproducts, nitrate, and arsenic in community water systems in Minnesota.

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Oakdale and 3M Work Together to Remove Perfluorochemicals

A sliver of a suburb on the eastern edge of the Twin Cities, Oakdale has grown from a weekend-retreat area of cabins ringing Tanners Lake, through a period of tract housing and starter homes, to a burgeoning community.  Two miles wide and stretching six miles from south to north in Washington County, Oakdale is the product of a consolidation of three cities—Northdale, Oakdale, and East Oakdale—in the 1960s for the primary task of developing public water and sewer systems. 

Development in Oakdale increased in the 1980s, and the city kept up with the growth, providing water from eight wells scattered within its limits and distributing it to homes and businesses throughout three different pressure zones.  Public works director Brian Bachmeier described the 1990s and first few years of the 21st century as the “nirvana period” in Oakdale’s history.

Then came the news in 2004 that the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) wanted permission to test the city’s water for contaminants they had never before tested for, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and  perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).  These chemicals are two of a much larger class of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs) that have been used in products that resist heat, stains, water, oil, and grease.

Washington County contains a number of sites that have been used for disposal of PFCs, including one in Oakdale that was acquired by the 3M Company and designated as a Superfund clean-up site in 1985 after being investigated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  At that time, solvents were found in some shallow private wells, prompting the residents to connect to the city’s water system, and a variety of organic chemicals were found in groundwater and soil.  3M responded by removing large amounts of waste material and contaminated soil, installing monitoring wells to sample the groundwater, and constructing a pump-out system that is still in operation today to intercept pollutants in shallow portions of the aquifer.

The MDH sampling that began in November of 2004 indicated the presence of small amounts of PFOA and PFOS in four of the city’s eight wells.  One of the wells (Well 5) exceeded the health based value for PFOS.  In January of 2005, the city met with MDH and 3M to discuss the issues and options for addressing them.

Meanwhile, sampling of the city’s wells continued.  In early 2006, the MDH laboratory expanded the list of PFCs for which it was able to test to include five more compounds: PFBA (perfluorobutanoic acid), PFPeA (perfluoropentanoic acid), PFHxA (perfluorohexanoic acid), PFBS (perfluorobutane sulfonate), and PFHxS (perfluorohexane sulfonate).  PFBA has been detected in seven of the city’s eight wells, but at concentrations below the health based value for PFBA.  Trace levels of the four other PFCs also have been detected in four of the city wells (Wells 5, 7, 8, and 9). 

“Since no best available technology was known for PFC removal, 3M offered to conduct a pilot study using granular activated carbon [GAC] filters,” MDH engineer Chad Kolstad said.  “The results from the pilot study were promising.” 

Based on the data from the pilot study, Oakdale and 3M agreed to build a GAC treatment plant to treat the water from Wells 5 and 9, which are adjacent to Richard Walton Memorial Park and south of the plant.  Completed in 2006, the plant has a capacity of 2,500 gallons per minute with 10 GAC vessels containing a total of 100,000 pounds of activated carbon. 

Oakdale Water Plant
The plant, on Hadley Avenue in Oakdale, treats water from Wells 5 and 9, which are to the south of the plant.

“GAC filters are similar to iron and manganese filters,” Kolstad explained, “except they are not backwashed and are set in a lead/lag series, allowing the second filter/vessel to catch any contaminant breaking through the first vessel.  Once the PFCs start to break through the media, the GAC in the lead vessel is replaced with virgin GAC and the current lead vessel is moved to the lag position.”

After the plant went on-line, MDH collected PFC samples every two weeks to monitor the effectiveness of the plant.  Kolstad said the first PFC to break through the lead vessel, after approximately six weeks, was PFBA.  “Since the state health based value for PFBA is 7.0 ppb, and the raw water concentration of the wells was less than 2.0 ppb, PFBA was not a major concern.  PFOA was the next to breakthrough but not until day 286, followed by PFOS about 550 days into the run.

“With the replacement of the GAC being based on PFOA breakthrough, the city was able to treat 1.9 billion gallons of water over 23 months.  Over this period, only 3.7 pounds of PFBA, 7.7 pounds of PFOA, and 11.4 pounds of PFOS were removed.  This amounts to a replacement cost of the GAC of 12 cents per 1,000 gallons, which is covered by 3M.”  Kolstad added that the GAC will probably continue to be replaced annually.

Fluoride and chlorine are added to the water after it passes through the filters (and continues to be added at other wells).  Wells 5 and 9 are the lead running wells in the city and also the highest in terms of PFC contamination.  The water being treated at the plant accounts for 75 percent of the water being delivered to residents. 

Filters at Oakdale Water Plant
Chris Sonterre
The photo at left shows the lead-lag system used with the filters. At right, utilities superintendent Chris Sonterre explains the process.

Well 8 also has PFC levels above the health risk limits.  Because it was not feasible to hook this well into the plant, it has been taken out of service and a new well is being drilled.  The seven wells now being used range from 463 to 581 feet in depth into the Jordan aquifer.  Utilities superintendent Chris Sonterre says the water from the Jordan is good water, containing virtually no iron and manganese.

Oakdale has kept its residents informed of the situation and informed them of additional precautions they can take with point-of-use devices in their homes.  The city also realizes that in the future it may have to consider other treatment options, including reverse-osmosis, ion-exchange resins, GAC with longer contact time, and new wells.  

“Though PFCs in groundwater happen to be unique to certain areas of the state, the lessons learned and process involved will hopefully serve as a template for future contaminants,” said Kolstad.  “Since laboratory detection limits continue to improve, even down to the parts-per-trillion range, water that was once considered contaminant free may start to find very low concentrations of contaminants. 

“Even though the concentrations of these contaminants may be far too low to affect human health, it will require a new type of public education and empathy toward each individual’s idea of risk.”

Oakdale Well 5
Oakdale Well 5
Well 5 (above) is on the other side of Richard Walton Memorial Park
from Well 9 (below).
Oakdale Well 9


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Report on Atrazine Completed

The Minnesota Department of Health has completed a health assessment on atrazine as part of a pesticide registration review for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). 

The report and assessment included a study of monitoring done on public water suppliers in Minnesota from 2000 to 2008, as part of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).  All of the non-consecutive community water systems (CWS) that use surface water and 60 percent of the non-consecutive groundwater CWSs were monitored, a total of 544 systems.  Atrazine was detected in nine of the groundwater systems and three of the systems that use surface water.  The highest concentration detected was 1.2 parts per billion (ppb) in a sample collected in 2000.  Deanna Scher and Paul Moyer, the assessment’s authors, note that there appears to be a downward trend in maximum atrazine concentrations over time in community water systems.  The maximum contaminant level for atrazine is 3 ppb; no public water system in Minnesota has ever exceeded this level.
With the exception of a detection in the Twin Cities, all of the detections occurred in the central, south-central, and southeast part of the state, regions that are considered geologically sensitive to pollutants from leaching and/or are high-use areas for atrazine.
Scher and Moyer noted two limitations on the data collected from CWSs. One is that only parent atrazine data were analyzed, not degradates.  Also, atrazine concentrations may demonstrate seasonal fluctuations, especially in surface-water systems.  Infrequent sampling means that peak concentrations are unlikely to be found, and systems are not required by the SDWA to monitor for atrazine during the season of greatest agricultural use.
More information is available on the MDH website at and the MDA website.

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U. S. House of Representatives Passes Chemical and Security Act

By Jon Groethe, Minnesota Department of Health
On November 6, 2009, the U. S. House of Representatives passed legislation granting the Department of Homeland Security broad new authority over security practices at chemical-handling facilities across the nation.  The Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2868) would require chemical-handling facilities to reduce the potential consequences of sabotage by adopting “inherently” safer technologies, such as switching to less hazardous processes or using different chemicals. The bill now proceeds to the Senate for action.  Existing chemical security regulations, which historically exempted water and wastewater treatment facilities from its scope, are due to expire in 2010, making it likely that a modified form of the new bill will be passed in the Senate this year. 
What are the implications for Minnesota’s water systems?  The bill must first pass in the Senate, and federal agencies must then create the legal framework for the bill.  Actual implementation could take several years.  Although details of the bill are not yet known, some significant highlights are as follows:

  1. The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate any chemical substance as a substance of concern and establish the threshold quantity for each such substance.
  2. The Secretary of Homeland Security would maintain a list of chemical facilities that are of sufficient security risk.  They would assign each facility to one of four risk-based tiers.
  3. Authorized chemical-facility inspectors would conduct inspections at facilities assigned to the highest tier every two years and at facilities assigned to the second-highest tier every four years.
  4. Timely sharing of threat information would be required on the part of both Homeland Security and water systems.
  5. Homeland Security would establish a process by which the public may report problems, deficiencies, or vulnerabilities at a facility associated with the risk of a terrorist incident. Whistleblower protections will also be provided for facility employees.
  6. Public disclosure of protected information vital to security would remain prohibited.
  7. Chemical facilities would conduct appropriate security background checks and ensure appropriate credentials for unescorted visitors and chemical-facility personnel. There are labor-related provisions added that prevent background checks from being excessive or exploitive.
  8. Vulnerability assessments and site-specific security plans would be submitted by water systems with populations greater than 3,300 to their respective Environmental Protection Agency region for review and approval.
  9. State primacy agencies would review and approve (or disapprove) water sector “inherently” safer technology evaluations.
    If passed, the new Chemical and Water Security Act would greatly expand current security measures, adding thousands of drinking water and wastewater treatment plants to its scope. However, this is all very preliminary; no final legislation has yet taken shape.  Water systems with significant chemical storage are encouraged to keep a continuing eye on the legislative developments involving this bill. 

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Implementation of Green Project Reserve Funds

By Brian Noma, Minnesota Department of Health
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) required that a minimum of 20 percent of the fiscal year 2009 funds for the Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWRF) fund (approximately $4.8 million dollars) be used to fund Green Project Reserve projects.  Under the state law governing the implementation of these funds, 25 percent was awarded as principal forgiveness, with the balance provided as a DWRF loan.  These funds are also required to be under contract or to be disbursed by February 17, 2010.
To qualify for Green Project Reserve funds through the DWRF/ARRA financing program, projects or project components had to fit into one or more of the following categories:
  a) Substantial water resource savings or efficiencies
  b) Substantial energy efficiency
  c) Environmentally innovative projects
Because of the limited amount of time that was given to get these funds under contract, and due to the limited amount of funds, the following criteria was established for Green Project Reserve Applicants:
  a) Communities with projects that have been certified to receive a DWRF/ARRA loan/grant after October 1, 2008, and have not entered into a financing agreement with the Public Facilities Authority (PFA) were considered eligible.
  b) Project bidding was required to meet all federal requirements, including the Davis-Bacon wage rate requirements, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise requirements, and the “Buy American” provision of ARRA.
  c) Funds for the Green Project Reserve were awarded on a first-come, first-served, first-approved process as required by state law. 
Projects or project components that satisfactorily met Green Project Reserve criteria were eligible to receive a 25 percent principal forgiveness loan for just the green-eligible costs.  The total amount of principal forgiveness available for fiscal year 2010 was $1,228,850.

Most projects typically had individual project components that were eligible, based on the criteria listed above.  Whole projects were eligible for the Green Project Reserve provided that they met the eligibility requirements.

The deadline for project submissions to MDH was on September 4, 2009, at 4:30 p.m.  Submissions received after this date were not accepted.  If there would have been any funds remaining from this first group of applicants, the remaining funds would have been offered to the remaining DWRF/ARRA applicants.

Business Case Justification
Communities that were seeking Green Project Reserve funds were required to submit business cases and receive approval from MDH.  The business cases had to outline and provide detailed water resource savings or efficiencies, energy savings (power, electrical or fuel, etc.), or efficiencies, or show environmental innovation. 

Communities that applied for Green Project Reserve funds under the environmental innovation category had to provide a detailed description explaining why their project was environmentally innovative.  Business cases submitted for individual project components (rather than for a whole project) were required to include an itemized list of the project component names and costs that were included in the contractor’s Schedule of Values for the project.

Communities that had projects that claimed operations efficiencies, personnel savings, or customer service enhancements were not eligible for the Green Project  Reserve.

Funded Green Project Reserve Projects
Examples of project types that were approved and certified for the Green Project Reserve funds include:

Redwood Falls
  a. Filter Backwash Reclaim Tank – (Water Conservation)
  b. High Efficiency Boilers – (Energy Conservation)
  c. Low Energy Reverse Osmosis Membranes –  (Energy Conservation)
  d. High (Premium) Efficiency Motors – (Energy Conservation)
  e. Variable Frequency Drives – (Energy Conservation)

Bird Island
  a. High (Premium) Efficiency High Service Motors – (Energy Conservation)
  b. Variable Frequency Drives – (Energy Conservation)
  c. New Well Pump and Motor – (Addressing an Efficiency Issue)

  a. Process Efficiency Improvements – (Energy Conservation)

If you have any questions regarding the implementation of the Green Project Reserve, please contact Brian Noma at 651-201-4683.

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Operator training sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota AWWA will be held in several locations this spring.

Upcoming water training

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Updated Thursday, February 09, 2017 at 07:51AM