Guidelines for eating fish from impaired waters

[anvplayer video=”5069244″ station=”998130″]

Two Northland lakes are being added to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s impaired waters list in 2022.

The Wild Rice Lake Reservoir and the main and east bays of Fish Lake Flowage have shown to be contaminated with PFAS, or "forever chemicals."

"These ‘forever chemicals’ are really a contaminant that’s kind of emerged at this point. We used to call them contaminants of emerging concern, and I think at this point, we all know that they’re an issue," Catherine Neuschler, the MPCA’s water assessment section manager, said.

The EPA describes PFAS as long lasting chemicals that may be linked to "harmful health effects in humans and animals." They are used in things like non-stick cookware and firefighting foam.

"The two lakes where you are in St. Louis County, they are downstream of an area that’s under active cleanup at the Duluth International Airport where one of the things that has been identified as a source of PFAS is use of firefighting foam on the property," Neuschler said. "So we’re continuing through our cleanup programs to work on that."

Rice and Fish lakes are among the first outside of the Twin Cities to contain fish with concerning levels of PFOS, one of the compounds in PFAS. Neuschler said PFAS act differently than mercury, but our response should be similar: limit consumption of fish with potentially high levels of either.

"Label your fish. Where did you catch it?" Neuschler suggested. "Make sure the people you’re sharing the fish with know where you got it. And then just pay attention to that advice so that you’re not consuming too much."

The Minnesota Department of Health offers fish consumption guidelines for individual bodies of water. For example, most people should not eat crappies caught in Fish Lake for more than one meal a month. Guidelines may differ for kids under 15 years old and women who are or might become pregnant.

Look up consumption recommendations via the DNR’s LakeFinder website.

Overall, the MPCA added 305 bodies of water to the impaired list. Not all of them are related to PFAS.

Impaired Waters List Coordinator Miranda Nichols said every 10 years, they take an intense look at certain watersheds around the state.

"One of the watersheds we really looked at this last year was the St. Louis River watershed. So that’s going right into Duluth," Nichols said. "And some of the good news there is we looked at about 240 water bodies in that watershed and only found about 30 impairments. So it really goes to show keeping that land pristine is really going to keep that water pristine."

The impaired waters list is still in the draft phase, and there are virtual public meetings throughout the month of December.

  • A statewide discussion, which will include PFOS in fish tissue and sulfate in wild rice waters is at 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9.
  • The northeast Minnesota regional meeting is at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 10.

Public comments are accepted through Jan. 7, 2022.

Click here to view Minnesota’s impaired waters on a map.