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Minnesota fights PFAS pollution with foam fractionation

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Minnesota will be the first U.S. state to test new foam fractionation technology that injects outdoor air into contaminated PFAS water that can be shipped out for electrochemical oxidation.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) pilot project will own one of 20 surface-activated foam fractionation (SAFF) systems in existence from Australian-based OPEC Systems Ltd., while AECOM provides the proprietary electrodes.

“This pilot project marks the beginning of a new era for PFAS cleanup in Minnesota,” announced MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler, in a statement. “This study will help us address PFAS contamination at the source and develop long-term solutions for cleaner water — ensuring safe drinking water for Minnesotans. We hope to eventually employ this technology around the state, including in Greater Minnesota where PFAS is a growing concern.”

PFAS are man-made chemicals found in food packaging like microwave popcorn bags, firefighting foam, stain, oil and water repellent chemicals, and have been linked to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.

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The new SAFF system technology turns PFAS substances into foam that can be separated from water. The water is returned to its environment, while a secondary technology, known as a DE-FLUORO unit, breaks the carbon-fluorine bonds (the backbone of PFAS chemicals) through electrochemical oxidation at a former area landfill. PFAS in contaminated groundwater or liquids is often stockpiled or incinerated at great expense.

Both technologies set to arrive next month for Minnesota are mobile and work without adding any chemicals back into the surface or groundwater.

The Minnesota project will first deploy at Tablyn Park in Lake Elmo for the initial round of testing on groundwater and surface water, and will likely move to other testing locations over the next one to two years, said local officials. Lake Elmo City Council member Jeff Holtz called Lake Elmo “ground zero” for PFAS contamination in the region.

None of the water in the SAFF pilot project will be connected to the city’s drinking water, which remains safe and well within Minnesota Department of Health drinking water guidelines for PFAS impacts, said local officials.

New information obtained during the pilot testing will help determine how and where to treat water in the East Metro area.

Funding for the pilot project was made possible through the 3M PFAS state settlement of $850 million in 2018. Minnesota’s attorney general successfully sued 3M, alleging that the company’s PFAS had damaged drinking water and natural resources in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.

Trials with SAFF technology are also coming to New York state.

In Canada, Vancouver-based Axine Water Technologies has reported some success in PFAS compounds in water and wastewater through electrochemical oxidation.

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