When Cottage Grove, Minnesota’s drinking-water panic began, Mayor Myron Bailey was at a conference in Las Vegas trying to lure new business to town. “You are the future. Cottage Grove is the place,” proclaimed a banner in his booth. A screen flashed the iconic red logo of the town’s most famous corporate resident, 3M Co., whose 1,750-acre factory sits along the banks of the Mississippi River. Behind him, the city’s administrator kept stepping away to take phone calls. Finally she approached Bailey. “Mayor,” she said, “something is wrong.”
It was May 22, 2017, and the state health department wanted to give Bailey a heads-up. It was about to set a new, lower level for a type of unregulated chemical found in Minnesota’s drinking water. And Cottage Grove’s would exceed the new threshold. It said there was no emergency, but stricter limits would better protect infants and young children.
“I had a sinking feeling in my stomach,” Bailey recalled.
He had known for years that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS, pronounced “PEE-fas”), which don’t occur in nature, lingered in the water around Cottage Grove.
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