The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Lake Superior College today announced plans to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination near Sargent Creek in Duluth.
After the MPCA detected elevated levels of PFAS in a tributary of the creek during an ongoing study of the St. Louis River estuary, an investigation determined that the PFAS pollution came from PFAS in firefighting foam used at the college’s Emergency Response Training Center. The foam contaminated onsite soils, a
nearby stream that leads to Sargent Creek, and lower portions of the creek until it meets the St. Louis River at Boy Scout Landing.
The Emergency Response Training Center is located just north of the St. Louis River and 13 miles from the Lake Superior College’s main campus near downtown Duluth.
The City of Duluth’s drinking water is not impacted by this contamination and remains safe. Households using private wells for drinking water within one mile of the training facility have been tested by the MPCA twice. The most recent results did not detect PFAS in these private drinking water wells.
PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment. Human exposure to certain levels and types of PFAS are associated with an elevated risk of negative health outcomes.
Lake Superior College signed an agreement earlier this month to work with the MPCA to address PFAS contamination. The first step in the remediation process will be to conduct PFAS monitoring at and near the training facility. Monitoring results will help the MPCA and Lake Superior College better understand the contamination, its location, and how to reduce levels in the environment.
The college has hired an environmental consultant to prepare a work plan to define the extent of the release in soil, groundwater, and surface water, including taking appropriate actions to mitigate the release.
"Protecting residents and communities from PFAS pollution around the state is a growing effort that requires partnerships, policies, and prevention," said Kirk Koudelka, MPCA assistant commissioner for land policy and strategic initiatives.
“The nature of the Emergency Response Training Center contamination site reaffirms decisions by the Legislature and Governor Tim Walz to take preventative action by restricting the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS in Minnesota.”
“Lake Superior College has long been committed to using only approved materials in its firefighting training, and as standards have evolved so have the materials we’ve used in our instruction,” said Dr. Patricia Rogers, president of Lake Superior College. “Now that the impact of these past materials has come to light the college is committed to this collaborative effort with the MPCA.”
Firefighting foam containing PFAS is a common source of PFAS pollution around the world, including in the Duluth region. Fish Lake and Wild Rice Lake in St. Louis County are impaired due to PFAS linked to firefighting foam use at the Duluth Air Base.
The use of firefighting foam containing intentionally added PFAS for testing or training purposes has been prohibited in Minnesota since July 1, 2020. On May 24, 2023, Governor Tim Walz signed legislation largely prohibiting the use of firefighting foam containing intentionally added PFAS effective January 1, 2024.
The new laws, including Amara’s Law, include other pollution prevention measures called for in Minnesota’s PFAS Blueprint, which is the state’s comprehensive plan to prevent, manage, and cleanup pollution.
The MPCA is continuing its study into PFAS in the St. Louis River estuary, along with other waters along Lake Superior. The study is part of an effort across the Great Lakes funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency