Cloquet's water wells to be tested, but pollution threat is lowYes, the wells that supply Cloquet with drinking water will be tested for contamination. But no, the state doesn’t strongly suspect that the wells are polluted with a chemical used in firefighting foam. Still, they want to check.
By: Janna Goerdt, Duluth News Tribune
Yes, the wells that supply Cloquet with water will be tested for contamination from a chemical used in a certain kind of firefighting foam.
But no, the Minnesota Department of Health doesn’t strongly suspect that the wells are polluted with the chemical. It’s more of a precautionary step, said Stew Thornley, the department health educator.
And yes, city and state officials said that as far as they know, Cloquet’s water is OK to drink.
Yet some Cloquet residents stocked up on bottled water after misinformation about the city’s water supply began circulating over the weekend, said Public Works Director Jim Prusak. He and Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger spent much of Monday taking calls from worried citizens.
“I will have my coffee today here at City Hall,” Prusak said. “I am absolutely not concerned, and at this point neither is the Department of Health.”
The state will be sampling more than 20 sites throughout Minnesota for perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, which are present in Class B firefighting foam. The foam is effective at putting out petroleum-based fires. But PFCs don’t break down in the environment and can seep into groundwater. Three of Cloquet’s four municipal wells will be tested for the chemicals.
In 2004 at sites near the Twin Cities, the health department discovered PFCs at levels that exceed state health guidelines. Though the chemicals don’t appear to cause any serious health problems, they do accumulate in humans and wildlife.
Cloquet was chosen for testing because of suspicion that the chemicals were used within a “wellhead protection area,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesman Ralph Pribble. Municipalities draw their drinking water from wellhead protection areas. That could make them vulnerable to contamination.
At about 80 to 160 feet deep, the city’s wells are rather shallow, Prusak said, which also makes them more vulnerable to pollution.
There are also wetlands and a stream near the site, and reports from the Cloquet Fire Department that they had used a Class B foam, Pribble said.
“We consider the likelihood of finding problems to be low,” Thornley said. “But there’s enough [likelihood] there to look.”
Cloquet Fire Chief Jim Langenbrunner said he, too, was surprised that the city was selected for testing, especially because the department doesn’t typically use that kind of firefighting foam.
At about $30 a gallon, “it’s too expensive,” Langenbrunner said.
He said the department did use a firefighting foam when a small plane caught fire at the city’s airport about five years ago. But Cloquet firefighters use plain old water to fight most of their fires. The department does use household detergent for some foam training exercises, Langenbrunner said.
“We’ve found Dawn to be the best,” he said.
Pribble said that firefighting foam that contains PFCs was manufactured beginning in the 1950s and continues to be made today.
Thornley said that for now, people don’t have to take any special precautions when drinking Cloquet water, and that all testing should be completed by fall.