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Rep. Tony Jurgens viewpoint: Investigating water pollution lawsuit

Tony Jurgens

Is our water safe to drink?

It's a question that is asked every time a new report is issued citing that industrial chemicals have been found in groundwater. Unfortunately, those reports have come up a number of times over the years, the most recent being in May.

The culprit has often been the presence of some form of perfluorochemical (PFCs), which are products that have been produced by 3M at its Cottage Grove facility.

We've been told that even at levels above the updated values, its presence did not represent an immediate health risk. In fact, at a public meeting in Cottage Grove last summer, a concerned resident asked directly if we are at a greater health risk due to the contaminated drinking water, and the answer was no.

The state of Minnesota apparently no longer agrees with this viewpoint, as the attorney general has filed a lawsuit against 3M, seeking $5 billion in punitive damages to Minnesota's public resources. According to recent reports, the attorney general alleges that 3M knew about potential health risks caused by PFCs but did little with this knowledge. 3M has stated there is no evidence that PFCs have caused any health risk.

Rep. Keith Franke and I have made a request with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to receive an update on PFC-related damages that the attorney general has filed in court.

Not surprisingly, we both are once again hearing from local residents who want to know if our water is safe to drink. It's worth noting that neither MDH nor MPCA officials have come out stating that our drinking water is unsafe, so, as always, residents are free to make their own choices. Hopefully, we will be able to sit down with state officials soon and provide you with an update on what we've learned.

Don't shame students in lunch line

You may have heard a recent story from Stewartville Schools where students with negative school lunch balances had their meals tossed in the garbage.

That is just wrong on so many levels. It's not the child's fault that he or she doesn't have money in a lunch account, and it was certainly not OK for lunchroom employees to take it upon themselves to embarrass those students. In fact, it violated state law.

We have a statute on the books that prevents the shaming of students who lack school lunch money. That means a student's hot lunch shouldn't be dropped in a bucket and replaced with a peanut butter sandwich. It also means a student should not receive a big "X" on his hand with permanent marker letting everyone know they don't have lunch money.

I attended a Hunger Solutions new conference on this topic recently, and was happy to hear them list South Washington County Schools as one example of a district that's doing things right through policy and communication.

For those who are curious, the Legislature increased funding for school meals by $4 million last session, making reduced-price meals free for all qualifying low-income students. But from what I've heard around the Capitol, school lunch debts being faced by districts are also being caused in part by some of those parents who can afford to pay, either through forgetfulness or stubbornness in their belief that they should not be responsible to pay for school lunches.

That said, students should not be demeaned or stigmatized because their lunch fund balance is below zero, and I will be working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle next year on a better solution that ensures all statewide school districts will put a stop to lunchroom shaming.

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