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Dangerous chemicals found in drinking water near airport spark calls for cleanup: 'They did know for quite a period of time'

"I'll just let my silence speak to that."

"I'll just let my silence speak to that."

Photo Credit: iStock

Residents in Spokane, Washington, have some serious concerns about their drinking water being contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

What is happening? 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often abbreviated as PFAS and referred to as "forever chemicals," have been found in the groundwater around Spokane International Airport. If that weren't bad enough, the airport has known about the contamination for some time but never reported it because it isn't legally required to do so. 

Why are PFAS concerning? 

PFAS are highly toxic chemicals found in all sorts of everyday products, including cosmetics and nonstick cookware. They're called forever chemicals because they can't break down in the environment, which means they don't break down in our bodies either. 

Exposure to PFAS has all sorts of negative health effects, including liver disease, altered immune and thyroid function, adverse reproductive and development outcomes, and cancer, per the National Library of Medicine.

For decades, firefighters at airports around the country used a firefighting foam that contained PFAS because of its ability to extinguish jet fuel fires. A Department of Defense report showed that at least 455 military bases are also contaminated, polluting drinking water supplies around many of the bases.

While the foam is being phased out, the damage has already been done. 

Needless to say, residents in Spokane are extremely concerned about the water they've been drinking. Michelle Baca lives just a few miles from the airport, and she's resorted to buying jugs of water, which are difficult for the 62-year-old to lug around all the time.  

"They did know for quite a period of time, and what do I think about that?" Baca said to KXLY 4 News. Baca paused for a moment before adding, "I'll just let my silence speak to that."

What is being done to clean up the water? 

The state Department of Ecology sent a letter to the airport informing it that it is responsible for the PFAS contamination. While the airport claimed there wasn't enough evidence to prove it was liable for poisoning the water, the DOE determined there was enough data. 

"We invited them to interim negotiations, in what we call 'an agreed order,'" said Nicholas Acklam, toxic cleanup program manager for the DOE. "The airport understands their role in this, and they're actively working with us." Acklam added that the cleanup could start this year.

That's good news to Baca, who said, "I'm happy that we can do better, and we can accelerate it."

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