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PFAS and Other Harmful Chemicals Found in a U.S. Protected River

St. Croix River – a federally protected stream – is facing a sinister threat coming from toxic industrial elements associated with several health issues, as per a report published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

The report says that per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, utilized in nonstick and stain-resistant pans, rugs, and numerous other products, have been detected in the river. Agency representatives said they were found last year in a water sample collected close to the Minnesota Department of Transportation drainage pipe.

PFAS and Their Impact on Nature and People

PFAS enter water sources in two ways: either straight from places that use the chemicals in their processes or indirectly via pipes such as wastewater-treatment plants that are not made to remove them, as per “The St. Croix River: Study of the River’s Health” report.

In January, the MPCA found that harmful chemicals were still getting to surface water from a former 3M Co. waste-disposal site in Oakdale. PFAS, which 3M created decades ago for use in various products, are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not decompose naturally in the environment. They also expand farther and faster through ground and surface water than any other pollutants and amass in human bodies.

High levels of PFAS in a person’s body have been associated with higher cholesterol, modifications to liver function, decreased immune response, thyroid conditions, and increased kidney and testicular cancer.

Concerns for the Protected River

Back in 2008, the river was added to the state’s impaired list after massive amounts of phosphorus were discovered in it. Phosphorus occurs naturally but can also be found in high concentrations in waste products and also fertilizer products.

Excess ranks of phosphorus help algae grow and expand, which can harm fish and impede recreation, and were discovered in the river south of Taylors Falls, the report details. However, according to the findings, actual phosphorus concentrations are declining.

“That decrease, measured by long-term monitoring by the Metropolitan Council, is evidence that strategies such as fertilizer management and wastewater treatment are working,” the report states.

The report also mentions that chloride levels in the St. Croix River have increased. Chloride contamination, mostly from road-salt runoff and water-softener discharges, is a real threat to Minnesota’s freshwater fish and other types of species, the report says.

Fortunately, the portion of the river on the north of Taylors Falls meets water-quality standards for aquatic life and recreation, the researchers wrote in the report. Moreover, fish and insects all over the river are in ‘good to excellent condition,’ the analysis notes. MPCA scientists discovered 63 fish species while sampling the river, including four considered rare or that require unique habitat to survive and grow.

“That diversity provides a strong signal that the health of the St. Croix River is good, including the condition of its water quality and habitat,” the report states. Restrictions remain, though, on how much fish from the river can be ingested safely because of the high mercury and PCB levels found in it, the report says.

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