New technology coming from Australia to fight PFAS “forever foam”

Two years ago, scientists from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency made an alarming discovery when they tested the foam floating atop Battle Creek (Ramsey County) and Raleigh Creek (Washington County) and determined that it had vastly higher concentrations of PFAS than the rest of the water. Now it appears that this “forever foam” might hold the secret to cleaner water for contaminated lakes, rivers and streams around the world.

PFAS, short for perfluorinated alkylated substances, are a group of chemical compounds used to manufacture Scotchguard, nonstick coatings, and fire-fighting foams. They are commonly known as “forever chemicals” because they are incredibly long-lasting and slow to break down. According to a 2019 report by CHEMTrust, PFAS polymers can have half-lives as long as 8.5 years in human blood, 40 years in water, and more than 1000 years in soil. The term “half-life” is used to describe the length of time it takes for half of the molecules in a sample to decay.

Diagram of a PFAS molecule from National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Locally, 3M disposed of manufacturing waste containing PFAS in landfills in Oakdale, Lake Elmo, Woodbury, and Cottage Grove during the 1950s and ‘60s. Over time, the chemicals leached into groundwater aquifers used as a source of drinking water for communities in the area. The Pollution Control Agency first discovered the groundwater contamination in 2002 and has been continuously working with 3M, local communities, and the Minnesota Department of Health ever since to ensure that local residents have safe water to drink.

The purple dots on the map above show the locations of wells that have been contaminated by PFAS in the Twin Cities east metro area.

In more recent years, the Pollution Control Agency has found PFAS in fish tissue in Tanners Lake (Oakdale), Lake Elmo and Eagle Point Lake (Lake Elmo), Clear Lake (Forest Lake) and the St. Croix River. Scientists are still not entirely sure what the long-term health effects of PFAS might be, but studies have linked the chemical to higher risk of kidney and testicular cancer, weakened immune systems in children, weight gain, and a wide range of other problems.

Map of lakes and streams impaired by PFOS in Minnesota, from Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Now, Minnesota is importing new, state-of-the art technology from Australia to filter, remove, and destroy PFAS in surface water resources. The technology works in two steps. First, water is run through a surface activated foam fractionation system (SAFF), which creates PFAS-saturated foam that can be easily removed from the water. Then, the PFAS foam is sent through a DEFLUORO unit that breaks down the carbon-fluorine bonds through electrochemical oxidation. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, both technologies are mobile and work without adding any chemicals back into the surface water or groundwater.

The SAFF technology was developed by Australian-based OPEC Systems, Ltd. and the DEFLUORO unit is designed by U.S.-based AECOM. Funds from the $850 million settlement between 3M and the State of Minnesota will be used to purchase, import, and operate the two systems. Settlement funds are also being used to treat and provide safe drinking water for private well owners and municipalities in 14 communities in central and southern Washington County.


Replying to @mineralmanmusic this just in! Minnesota is bringing new tech from Australia to remove PFAS from surface and groundwater in Lake Elmo. Part 1 is called surface activated foam fractionation (SAFF) and part 2 is a DEFLUORO unit designed in the United States. They’re using funds from the 3M settlement to buy the equipment and run the project. Can’t wait to report out on the results! #pfas #science #technology #cleanwater #waterpollution #3M

♬ original sound – Angie Hong

Currently, the SAFF system is in route from Australia and scheduled to arrive in Minnesota next month. There are less than 20 units available anywhere in the world, and the one arriving here will be placed in Tablyn Park in Lake Elmo, where Raleigh Creek is located.

Worried about your drinking water? If you have a private well and live in the PFAS sampling request area (south of Hwy 36), you can contact the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to request a PFAS test. Visit to find an interactive map of the sampling area and submit an online well testing request.