Contaminants of Emerging Concern
Why we work on special projects
Special Projects are initiated by MDH when scientific or other information is needed to address a specific question or issue. Special projects will be conducted as needed to support the goals of the program.
- Disinfection Byproducts: Special Project
Disinfection byproducts (DBPs) are a special class of CECs. They occur in drinking water due to the required addition of disinfecting chemicals that protect against dangerous microbial and viral contaminants. Numerous DBPs were nominated to the CEC Initiative based on their occurrence and possible health risks. This project provides a mechanism for additional stakeholder input regarding both the benefits of disinfection and potential health risk associated with DBPs.
- Outreach and Education Grants
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) partners with local governments or organizations to increase public awareness about contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). These grants can be used to interact with the public on topics such as contaminants in Minnesota waters, the health effect of contaminants, pathways of containment exposure, and contaminant sources. Organizations that receive these grants include local and regional units of government, non-profit organizations, and professional water resource organizations.
- Microplastics in Minnesota
Microplastics are extremely small particles of plastics that can occur either from direct manufacture or from the breakdown of larger plastic products in the environment. In 2019, the Minnesota State Legislature tasked the Minnesota Department of Health to work in cooperation with other state agencies to evaluate occurrence of microplastics in Minnesota waters and assess potential risks to human and ecological health. Staff from the Departments of Health, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Transportation, and the Pollution Control Agency have created an interagency workgroup to coordinate efforts for investigating microplastics in Minnesota. Funding for this project was provided from the Clean Water Fund to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams and to protect groundwater and drinking water from degradation. Due to the ongoing COVID response, the microplastics project has been placed on hold.
- Water Reuse and Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment
The high demand for water in Minnesota means that, in some places, we are draining our drinking water resources faster than they are refilling. Reusing water is an alternative solution for non-drinking water demands, but the possible health risks of reusing water are not well understood. This study from the University of Minnesota allows us to better understand the quality of harvested storm water and rainwater used for purposes other than drinking water.
While this project has been completed, water reuse discussions and associated research are still ongoing with MDH and our partners. Please see Quanitative Microbial Risk Assessment Projects and Water Reuse: Clean Water Fund for more information.
- Alternative Risk Assessment Methodology
A variety of state and federal agencies monitor for a wide range of contaminants in Minnesota waters, including chemicals from pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and household products. Currently there is no standard method for evaluating the potential health risks for contaminants that do not have toxicity information. The goal of this project is to discover methods that can create health recommendations for contaminants with little or no toxicity information. Completed in collaboration with J. B. Stevens & Associates, Eastern Research Group, Inc. (ERG).
- Analytical Methodology Development
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) evaluates contaminants found in water and creates health-based guidelines. Health-based guidelines tell us at what level a contaminant can be in drinking water and be unlikely to cause harm or illness. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) evaluates contaminants found in water and creates health-based guidelines. Health-based guidelines tell us at what level a contaminant can be in drinking water and be unlikely to cause harm or illness.
- Baseline Water Needs Assessment
Part of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)’s mission to protect public health is to communicate with the public about potential health risks posed by contaminants. We wanted to know more about how Minnesotans educate themselves about drinking water and contaminants in drinking water so we could use what we learned to improve communication. We partnered with DeYoung Consulting to investigate what information the public gathers on drinking water and which sources the public uses for this information.
- Distilled Water Assessment
Some families in Minnesota use distilled or purified bottled water for mixing infant formula if they are concerned about contaminants in their well water or municipal tap water. Prior to this study, little was known about contaminants that might occur in bottled distilled water. Staff in the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Public Health Laboratory conducted this study to assess what contaminants might occur in distilled water, and what the level was of each of the contaminants present.
- Pharmaceutical Screening Project
The presence of pharmaceuticals in water is of increasing concern to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) because they may cause harm to humans. MDH developed a rapid assessment method for evaluating the health risks of pharmaceuticals found or likely to be found in drinking water sources. Through this project MDH developed water screening values, or the amount of an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) that can be consumed daily with no expected health risk to humans.
- Radionuclides Assessment Project
Radioactive elements, also called radionuclides, occur naturally in the environment, including in groundwater aquifers. Radionuclides are unstable, and break down (decay) into different elements. This process releases energy called ionizing radiation, which can be harmful to human health. The goal of this project is to understand the occurrence of specific, understudied radionuclides in groundwater, determine the potential for human exposure to radionuclides after drinking water treatment, and examine the magnitude of any possible health risks. Completed in collaboration with Pace Analytical Services, Inc.
- Rapid Assessment for Pesticides
Pesticides can be helpful in preventing crop damage and disease, but can be harmful to the environment and humans if used improperly. Under certain conditions pesticides can move through soil into groundwater. MDH developed a rapid method to assess pesticides so we could process them in a reasonable amount of time. We evaluated the pesticide’s ability to cause cancer and damage organs and used this data to determine the amount of pesticide in drinking water that is unlikely to cause harm to people.
- Relative Source Contribution Project - Phase I
- Relative Source Contribution Project - Phase II
One of the main challenges MDH faces is explaining to the public how they can be affected by the contaminants in our environment. Our use of computer models adds to our understanding of chemical exposure and helps us determine how to reduce exposure to harmful substances. During this project, a Versar, Inc. reviewed all available exposure models and evaluated the ones that seemed to work best for assessing relative source contributions from CECs.
- USGS Water Database Project
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) staff rely on other scientists’ data to determine which contaminants of emerging concern are commonly found in the environment in Minnesota. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is the main agency collecting data about CECs in water sources. They have been collecting CEC data since 1995 from over 200 sites in Minnesota, but these data are not easily accessible. The goal of this project is to compile all published CEC data from the USGS into a single electronic database. This accomplishes a Clean Water Fund objective to centralize water information within and between government agencies.