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Legacy funds to target ’emerging water contaminants’ and water protection

Clean drinking water, one of the important but sometimes low-profile issues in public health, will get a financial boost from Minnesota’s new Legacy Amendment funds. For the first time, a state agency will be looking at contaminants that have a high probability of landing in our water, rather than measuring what we’ve already been drinking.

The Environmental Health Division of the Minnesota Department of Health received $445,000 (it asked for about twice that) for a project examining risk assessments on emerging contaminants and $1.2 million for a study on more traditional source water protection.

The emerging-contaminant program will be among the first of its kind in the United States. California has been monitoring emerging contaminants in a few areas, but Minnesota will be focused on what might enter the drinking water.

“We are so often in a reactive mode,” said Pam Shubat, who works in health-risk assessment for the MDH. “Emerging contaminants are tough for us. We are so busy taking care of known contaminants, we have not been able to spare staff resources to explore emerging contaminants.”

The money will provide for the equivalent of four full-time scientists to work on the issue. At the federal level, the U.S. Geologic Survey has been doing some work in this area and has found, for example, that pharmaceuticals and personal care products (at least some of the chemicals that make them up) might be a problem.

Antibacterial soap has been getting attention because of the bacterial resistance it can cause. Last week, the Canadian Medical Association called on the Canadian government to ban all antibacterial household products because of fears they cause bacterial resistance. A 2009 Australian study found 28 antibiotics in several water sources.

One of the antibacterial drugs that Minnesota’s team will look for is triclosan, which has shown up in breast milk and can react to the chlorine in drinking water to form chloroform, a carcinogen. One anti-pesticide group is trying to remove triclosan from the market.

The MDH expects to have results available by next June.

“We want to go the next step,” Shubat said. “What should we be prepared for? If these chemicals are found in wastewater, are they in groundwater, too? Then drinking water?”

The other piece of the project, which looks at source water protection, will provide help to cities in the form of funding and water supply planning.

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