How 'forever chemicals' got in the groundwater west of Spokane
For decades, Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane trained firefighters with a chemical based fire suppression foam. And, like any substance would, that foam seeped into the ground around the base, and into the groundwater.
Now, recent testing on the west side of Spokane has detected toxic chemicals called “PFAS” in the drinking water, and that's a problem.
Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are toxic to humans at extremely low levels, posing significant risks to our health. And the guidelines around testing and reporting these forever chemicals are relatively new. The Seattle Times reports that has left people living in the area with little guidance for how to make sure their water source is safe.
Seattle Times reporters Isabella Breda and Manuel Villa have been covering this story, and talked to Soundside about what they've found.
"PFAS are a class of chemicals most commonly used in types of firefighting foams known as AFFF, used to put out like high intensity fires," Breda explained. "That's where we're seeing them show up most commonly in drinking water contamination, but these chemicals are also used as rain and water repellents on nonstick pans and raincoats. They're on the inside of your La Croix cans, they're pretty much everywhere."
The problems show up when these chemicals are ingested, which is why their appearance in the groundwater that supplies drinking water to many of the homes near both Fairchild Air Force Base and the Spokane International Airport is so concerning.
Fairchild AFB acknowledged "its responsibility for widespread drinking water contamination” in 2017, and has been testing the water in areas adjacent to the base in the years since.
Spokane International Airport also did testing, but didn't release any data until homeowners recently requested the public records about it.
Homeowners outside of the testing areas of both the Air Force base and the airport have had to test their own water, which led to the creation of the West Plains Water Coalition, with the goal of filling in the information gaps for residents of the rural communities who rely on private drinking water wells.
Listen to Soundside’s full conversation with Isabella Breda and Manuel Villa by clicking the play icon at the top of this story, and read more in their reporting over at the Seattle Times.