EPA tells MN agencies to act on water contamination

EPA tells MN agencies to act on water contamination

The agency finds nitrate levels in southeast Minnesota drinking water to be unsafe.

(ABC 6 News) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to a petition from environmental advocacy groups to intervene regarding contamination of groundwater in southeast Minnesota.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) and 10 other groups petitioned the EPA in April after they say state agencies failed to address this public health crisis.

Now, the EPA is directing state agencies to take immediate action, saying “there is an evident need for further actions to safeguard public health.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, consuming too much nitrate can affect how the blood carries oxygen. Infants and pregnant women are the most at risk for this condition, known as “blue baby syndrome.” If left untreated, it can result in serious illness or death.

The EPA is directing state agencies to coordinate their efforts, inform people who are affected and provide them with safe alternative drinking water.

“Part of the problem has been that so many different agencies are involved, so hopefully this push will encourage more collaboration,” said Amy Bishop, a member of Responsible Ag in Karst Country (RAKC).

The group, based in Fillmore County, educates people in the region about contaminants in the water. They encourage private well owners, who are on the frontlines of this issue, to get their wells tested.

“If they don’t know exactly what’s in the water, then it’s hard to take action on it,” said Andy Bishop, a fellow member of RAKC.

Private well owners can get free nitrate testing through the Department of Agriculture.

“For most people, they’ll get the results back, their well water will be just fine and safe, and they may not be a vulnerable population. For others, this will be critical information that they need in order to then access safe drinking water,” said Leigh Currie, Director of Strategic Litigation for the MCEA.

Currie says many in the region don’t know they’re drinking contaminated water because well testing is not required.

However, the Karst region is more susceptible to nitrate contamination than other areas.

“It’s a specific kind of geology that is vulnerable to contamination because of how porous the connection is between the surface and the groundwater,” said Currie.

The EPA is requesting a response from the state within 30 days with a plan on how it will notify impacted residents, test wells and provide safe alternative drinking water.

RAKC will hold a forum on water quality at 7 p.m. Thursday at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center to spread more awareness on this public health issue the region is facing.