Minnesota Study Uncovers Staggering Costs of PFAS Water Cleanup

pfas filtration facility

(Credit: MPCA)

by | Jun 9, 2023

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A new study by The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has estimated removal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from wastewater streams in Minnesota would cost between $14 billion and $28 billion over the span of 20 years. These estimates may be applied to costs anywhere, suggesting a need to end the use of these “forever chemicals.”

Currently, PFAS can be bought for $50 to $1,000 per pound, but it costs about $2.8 million to $18 million to remove and destroy a pound of PFAS from municipal wastewater. Further, smaller wastewater treatment facilities would face per-pound costs of more than six times that of larger wastewater facilities.

“The exorbitant costs associated with removing PFAS from community wastewater systems underscores the need to address PFAS pollution long before it gets into the waste stream,” said MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler. “At no fault of their own, wastewater treatment facilities receive PFAS from a variety of sources and they cannot carry the burden of cleaning up the pollution. We must all focus on preventing PFAS from entering the environment in the first place.”

PFAS Pollution in Wastewater and Potential Health Risks

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer goods since the 1940s. They are used in items such as nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, and cosmetics.

Most PFAS do not break down naturally, so they are widespread in our soil, water, and air and are therefore found in food products and in the blood of humans and animals worldwide. According to the CDC, exposure to some PFAS may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals, but further research is needed to discover specific health concerns. Recently, Chemours, DuPont, Corteva, and 3M were all reported to be a part of multi-billion dollar PFAS settlements in the United States.

Minnesota’s PFAS Blueprint offers a plan for preventing, managing, and cleaning up PFAS pollution, and with this study, they emphasize the prevention of PFAS pollution as the most direct way to protect the environment and public health. PFAS alternatives are already being developed in food packaging, which instead uses compostable materials made from corn, bamboo, or palm leaf.

The MPCA is working to phase out the use of nonessential PFAS over the coming decade by implementing a new law passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Governor Tim Walz. PFAS Blueprint programs are also receiving funding from the Legislature towards helping businesses transition away from PFAS.

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