Camanche water tests PFAS-free

Apr. 20—CAMANCHE — Testing conducted by Barr Engineering last month showed no detectable levels of PFAS contamination present in Camanche's water system.

"Having established our existing deep well with a new pump and having that be the main water supply source for Camanche, we are PFAS-free in our system," City Administrator Andrew Kida told The Herald earlier this week.

3M's ordered abatement of Camanche's contaminated water supply brought it to within compliance of federal regulations on certain PFAS chemicals put into place April 10, establishing the first-ever national and legally-enforceable drinking water standard to protect from exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Per- and polyfluoroalkly substances, or "PFAS," are thousands of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in industry and consumer products such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, and firefighting foams since the 1940s. Critical in the manufacture of medical technologies, phones, batteries, automobiles, and airplanes, these chemicals don't break down in the environment, earning them the nickname of "forever chemicals."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that although human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain, studies of laboratory animals given large amounts of PFAS indicate that some of the chemicals may affect growth and development, reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injury to the liver.

Along with a $9 billion investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities with drinking water impacted by PFAS and other emerging contaminants, the Environmental Protection Agency set maximum enforceable levels of PFOA and PFOS chemicals at 4.0 parts per trillion. Maximum levels of PFNA, PFHxS, and "GenX" chemicals are set at 10 PPT. The EPA also set limits for any mixtures present of two or more PFAS, PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and "GenX" chemicals.

Initial monitoring of public water systems must be completed in three years, which is also when the public must then be provided information regarding the chemicals in drinking water. Where the chemicals are found to exceed standards, solutions must be implemented to reduce the presence of PFAS chemicals in drinking water within five years.

The city of Camanche has two PFAS-contaminated shallow wells that are capable of supplying water to the city's system in the case of an emergency. The most recent testing of the city's water that included testing of the shallow wells, Kida said, showed detectable PFAS levels at 2.6 PPT.

"Once we have the new deep well that's being drilled now online," he said, "we will cap the two shallow wells, and our system will no longer have contaminated connections to the network at all."

3M, with a plant located just across the Mississippi River from Camanche's approximate population of 4,565 people, was one of the first companies to develop and produce PFAS in the U.S. The 566-acre Cordova, Illinois, facility began doing so in the 1970s, with emissions going into the air, soil, and the river via waste and stormwater discharges.

The results of a 2022 EPA Administrative Order to sample water resulted in the discovery of at least 19 different PFAS chemicals in drinking water within a three-mile radius of the 3M Cordova facility and the identification of the plant as the likely cause of Camanche's contaminated water supply.

Hundreds of communities across the country have sued 3M and other PFAS manufacturers claiming that their soil and water have been contaminated by the chemicals.

In 2018, 3M paid the state of Minnesota $850 million to settle a lawsuit over natural resource damages that stemmed from the contamination of 150 square miles of groundwater that affected over 170,000 people in Washington County.

That same year, the PFOS chemical was found in Belgian soil, where 3M had manufactured PFOS until 2002, and subsequently in the bloodstreams of residents there in high concentrations. The amount of the settlement came to $581 million to be paid to the western European country.

3M was sued by the state of Illinois in March 2022 and accused of improper handling of the toxic chemicals that resulted in contamination at and around the plant on the banks of the Mississippi River. The parties came to a $10.3 billion agreement in June 2023 to be paid over 13 years to settle lawsuits over water contamination.

The city of Camanche began testing in January 2022 for PFAS in two shallow wells that the city was drawing the majority of its water from, with a deep well available for backup supply. Testing conducted that July showed contamination as high as 7.2 PPT of the PFOA chemical, exceeding the EPA's June 2022 health advisory level of 0.004 PPT.

The EPA approved an agreement between 3M and the city of Camanche in which 3M would provide the city of Camanche with funding for upgrades to its drinking water system including the infrastructure of two new wells, refurbishing the city's existing deep well with a new pump and better electrical service to power it, putting the city's deep well into service as the primary supplier of water to the city, and reducing and eliminating detectable PFAS chemicals from the city drinking water supply.

The settlement also included an order for 3M to offer treatment to all private well owners within three and four miles of the Cordova plant, $50,000 for the City's past and future legal fees, and about $18,000 for a 2021 study commissioned by the city to examine its water supply options.

"I think we're pretty happy with the plan in general," EPA Compliance Officer Scott Marquess said during a Camanche City Council meeting last year, "and really what appears to be an expeditious effort to get PFAS-free water delivered to the customers of the water system in a timely manner."

In mid-2023, the city switched to drawing its water supply from the uncontaminated deep well operating on a temporary pump.

The new deep wells have been designed by Shive-Hattery Architecture and Engineering firm out of Chicago and the drilling, construction, and installation of the wells more than 1,200 feet underground is being done by Barr Engineering.

So far, Kida said, 3M has reimbursed the city for costs of about $1,5 million and he expects the total to reach over $4 million by the time the well currently being drilled at Edens Avenue and 14th Street is completed.

"They've been good partners to work with, and they've been very responsive and responsible," Kida said. "Everybody went above and beyond to make this situation rectifiable in a hurry."

In a statement released by 3M in December 2022, the company declared its intent to discontinue the manufacture and use of PFAS by the end of 2025 and a commitment to innovate new solutions.