In an effort to make sure Minnesota doesn’t become the land of 10,000 chemicals, Minnesota legislators are once again wrestling with how to address pollution from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
Rep. Lucy Rehm, DFL-Chanhassen, a former member of the Chanhassen City Council and the city’s environmental commission, coauthored a bill introduced in the Minnesota House last month that aims to ban the use of “forever chemicals” in ski wax.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, called PFAS, are a group of synthetic, long-lasting chemicals known for their durability. There are currently thousands of chemical compounds in this group, and their enduring nature means that once introduced to the environment, their presence is persistent and not easily remedied.
“In Minnesota, we really value our waters and soil, so we do need to be careful to ensure that this doesn’t contaminate our groundwater,” Rehm said, adding that this is an issue she believes can find bipartisan support in the Legislature.
The chemicals are used on a global scale in a variety of industries, resulting in worldwide PFAS pollution and attention from environmentalists, regulatory agencies and industry leaders.
In its continued effort to address PFAS pollution across the state, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is researching its use in trades across Minnesota. The first report of three was released last month and focused on metal plating and finishing. The next report, expected within the next few months, will focus on clothing, leather and textile industries.
In its release, the agency said there are an estimated 1,200 businesses using PFAS in Minnesota.
“Taking a closer look at how industries in Minnesota use PFAS, understanding how PFAS pollution might happen, and exploring alternatives to PFAS within those industries are all steps toward a future without PFAS pollution,” said report author and researcher Maya Gilchrist in the release.
Concerns over PFAS in Minnesota have been ramping up over the past decade, especially following the 2018 3M settlement. In a suit that resulted in an $850 million settlement, it was alleged that 3M’s production and disposal of PFAS had contaminated drinking water and damaged natural resources in the eastern Twin Cities metro area. In addition to their environmental impact, there is also evidence to suggest exposure to PFAS can result in a variety of health issues.
For the past few years, legislators have been pushing for more strict regulation in regard to the “forever chemicals.” Cosmetics, cookware, firefighting foam, clothing, children’s products and, of course, ski wax have all been topics of discussion at the Capitol. These bills have had some success. A bill proposed last year to prohibit the use of PFAS in food packaging passed and will go into effect starting next January.
Among the bills proposed this legislative session is Rehm’s coauthored ban on ski waxes containing PFAS. The chemicals have been used in high-performance fluorinated ski wax for years, but are being phased out as skiing leagues and organizations continue to crack down on their use.
Among these organizations and leagues is the Loppet Foundation, which oversees a handful of regional parks in the metro as well as several local ski events, U.S. Ski and Snowboard, and therefore the Minnesota State High School League, and the American Birkebeiner race all banned the use of fluorinated waxes in 2021.
Avid Nordic skier and former assistant coach for the Chanhassen and Chaska high school team, Ladd Conrad, said that he supports the move away from fluorinated waxes. “I think the league and the state have gone in the right direction,” he said.
Conrad, 78, began skiing nearly 50 years ago when he first moved to Chanhassen. He said back then it was “cornfield country.”
“We’d just put on our skis and ski west,” he said with a laugh.
When the 50-kilometer American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest cross-country skiing event that began in 1973 and runs in northern Wisconsin, Conrad was excited, and after a year or two he competed in his first Birkie. That year, he placed 73 out of 2,500 competitors, and he has been participating ever since. This year marked his 47th-straight year.
He has skied at all levels, from local to international races and everywhere in between. He said he doesn’t concern himself too much with waxing his skis anymore. He just takes his skis as-is and goes.
All in all, Conrad said for him it’s more about the love of the game than the ski wax.
“When I was coaching, that was one of those things I could really get behind and say to the kids, ‘This is a lifelong sport,’” Conrad said.
Conrad said that the move away from these “lethal” waxes is especially important for high school athletes. “You level the playing field, you make it healthier, and you eliminate the cost,” said Conrad. In addition to their associated health risks, fluorinated waxes are significantly more expensive than the alternative, he said.
As a coach, he made sure to have students wear a mask when applying the wax or would do it himself. Even now as Conrad is working through his stash of waxes, he makes sure to apply the fluorinated ones in a well-ventilated area.
“There are alternatives and they’re good, and you don’t really need that threat,” he said.
With boating season around the corner, the Carver County Sheriff’s Department is gearing up with a new boat and equipment for its dive team.
“Boating is a big part of what we do in the state of Minnesota, so water safety is very important,” Chief Deputy Sheriff Patrick Barry said.
The sheriff’s office recently received two separate grants to help fund the purchase of the new gear.
The boat, a 2023 SeaArk Bay Runner 210, costs nearly $50,000. It will be paid for in part with a federal boating safety grant of $29,000. The remainder of the cost is expected to be covered by the trade-in value of the county’s current 2009 boat.
With its normal wear and tear over the years, the sheriff’s department boat is due for an upgrade, Barry said.
“Our goal is to be out there and keep people safe and be a resource for them — to help when they need it, provide education, and enforcement when necessary. A big part of that is being on the lakes,” Barry said.
The boat will be used to enforce water safety guidelines and will be used by the dive team for recovery missions and other water emergencies.
In addition to the boat grant, the sheriff’s office and its dive team was also awarded $18,000 from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. The dive team is planning on using this second grant to add five new buoyancy control devices, as well as five drysuits. The buoyancy control devices give divers greater control over their position underwater.
Barry explained that members of the dive team are often searching for people and things in the “muck” at the bottom of the lake. He explained that the concoction of oil, gas and chemical runoff that settles to the bottom of the lake poses a danger to the divers. “The gear we use is extremely important in keeping our staff safe,” Barry said. The new gear will replace the dive team’s aging equipment.
The dive team is primarily made up of volunteers who meet throughout the year to stay up-to-date on training and procedure. “We have some very dedicated citizens that lend their time and experience to keep people safe,” Barry said.