Trace of 'forever' chemicals found in Alex drinking water, not in Evansville

Alex levels are considered safe according to state drinking water standards.

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For the past year, state agencies have been testing public drinking water supplies throughout Minnesota for the existence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, called PFAS for short.

"Forever" chemicals have been found in Alexandria drinking water, but not at high enough levels to warrant concern, state officials said Tuesday. Also, Evansville's drinking water tested clear of the chemicals.

For the past year, state agencies have been testing public drinking water supplies throughout Minnesota for the existence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, called PFAS for short. For decades, these chemicals have been used widely in consumer products such as fast-food wrappers and nonstick frying pans. The problem, experts say, is that they never break down.

And while experts still don't fully understand how harmful they are to people and the environment, they have been linked to health problems such as higher cholesterol levels, higher blood pressure, reduced immune response, and increase risk of prostrate, kidney and testicular cancer.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that the state has sampled 401 of about 900 community drinking water systems, covering about 75% of Minnesotans who rely on a public drinking water source.

"The good news so far is that the vast majority of public water systems in the state that have completed testing have either no detections of PFAS or have levels below the current state levels of health concern," Malcolm said. "...Only one has been found to have PFAS levels that exceed the guidance levels."


That one that exceeds guidance levels is in St. Paul Park, an area affected by PFAS contamination from a 3M plant. Even people who drink that water should be safe, as a contaminated well that has been sidelined was still included in the results.

Alexandria's drinking water was measured at a health risk index of 0.45 - 0.5109, which was in the top 10% of the 201 systems for which results have been reported. Anything measuring at or below 1 is considered safe for all people to consume. State officials had previously found PFAS in fish tissue taken from Alexandria's Lake Winona, which takes treated water from the area sewer plant. The state advises men, boys over age 15, and women not planning to become pregnant to limit their consumption of sunfish from Lake Winona to one meal a week.

While Malcolm called the low levels "good news," she did point out that the state's work creates a baseline of data that officials can refer to in case levels change.

The state's recommended levels are not legally enforceable. However, the federal government is expected to issue new rules for allowable levels of PFAS in drinking water by the end of 2023, said Drinking Water Protection Section Manager Sandeep Burman.

Multiple drinking water systems in Douglas County will be soon tested for PFAS. Those are Brandon, Carlos, Eagle's Landing Development in Garfield, Garfield, Hi View Park in Alexandria, Kensington, Osakis, and Westside Del Valle Homeowners Association in Miltona. Westbrook Estates in LaGrande Township is currently undergoing testing.

Residents who draw drinking water from these sources can check their PFAS status on a new online map unveiled this week, at

The state hopes to finish sampling by next spring, officials said.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn about the United States, Karen Tolkkinen has covered local news from Idaho to New Hampshire to Alabama and landing at the Echo Press in Alexandria in 2017.
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