3M pollution knocks out seventh city well in Woodbury
WOODBURY, Minn. — A seventh Woodbury water well has been knocked out by pollution from the 3M Co., according to city officials.
The shuttering of that well is a setback for the city, which declared a water-pollution emergency Jan. 8 when six wells were shut down.
If seven out of the city’s 19 wells remained closed, Woodbury would not be able to pump enough water to meet the summertime peak demand. But the city hopes to re-open some of the wells by building an $8 million filtration plant, which is now under construction.
The closing of the seventh well might require adding more filters to treat polluted water, according to Utilities Manager Jim Westerman. In an email, he said Woodbury is “exploring options including adding additional treatment capacity” in the city water system.
Officials say the city’s water remains safe to drink. They expect that the filtering plant, at Valley Creek Road and Tower Drive, will be on-line in time to help meet the summertime demand.
But they do not know what impact the loss of the seventh well will have on summertime pumping capacity.
Westerman said he doesn’t believe any additional wells will be closed soon because of rising pollution levels.
Woodbury closed six wells in 2019 after state officials said that pollution levels had increased beyond safety limits.
Minnesota Department of Health officials verbally notified Woodbury on Feb. 3 that water from the seventh well had become too polluted. The well was immediately closed.
The department formally notified the city on Feb. 21, and Woodbury announced the well closure on its website.
In January Westerman said even with the six wells out of commission, Woodbury could easily meet its wintertime demand for up to 5 million gallons a day.
What worries officials is summer — when lawns and gardens require watering and the demand triples. Last summer, Woodbury’s water demand hit a one-day peak of 16 million gallons.
The cost of Woodbury’s temporary plant is being paid by 3M, out of a $40 million fund set up in 2007 for short-term solutions to pollution problems.
Those payments are separate from the $850 million 3M paid in 2018 to settle an environmental-damage suit brought by the state attorney general.
After legal expenses, $720 million remains, to be spent on projects to improve water quality. Two advisory groups have been meeting for two years to evaluate proposals, and are expected to announce their recommendations soon.
Starting in the 1940s, 3M manufactured perfluorochemicals for use in non-stick cookware, stain repellant and fire extinguishers. It legally dumped the chemicals in landfills in Oakdale, Woodbury, Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove, ending in the 1970s.
Traces of the chemicals were detected in the drinking water of about 60,000 people in Washington County in 2004. They had apparently leaked out of the landfills, forming plumes of pollution in underground water.
Although the chemicals have never been proven to cause any ailments in humans, in laboratory animals they can cause cancer, thyroid problems and birth defects.
The chemicals do not quickly degrade in nature, and traces have been found in animals and people around the world.
In most of Washington County, the levels of pollution have been dropping since 2004.
But the levels fluctuate, and in a few city wells the levels have recently have been increasing.
In Cottage Grove, rising pollution in two wells forced the city to build a $2.5 million treatment plant, similar to Woodbury’s. Lake Elmo and St. Paul Park also are spending money for wells, water mains and treatment plants.