Spokane is blessed or burdened (depending on perspective) with Fairchild AFB, the largest employer in Spokane County. Nominally a base for refueling tankers aircraft, Fairchild is also a highly contaminated Superfund site; houses the SERE program as well as . . .
Airway Heights residents lined up by the hundreds Tuesday night to receive bottled water after city officials advised residents not to drink or cook with water from city pipes, as it is likely contaminated with chemical runoff from Fairchild Air Force Base.
But the tap water “is safe for activities where water will not be ingested, such as bathing, doing laundry and washing dishes,” the city and the Air Force said in a joint statement Tuesday evening. They said the warning was issued “out of an abundance of caution.”
Crowds began arriving near the Yokes grocery store in Airway Heights Tuesday night as word spread about the water advisory. Nate Whannell, deputy fire chief for Airway Heights, said firefighters handed out more than 300 packs of water by about 9:15 p.m. Each pack had 35 bottles. Crowds were orderly and police were on hand to direct traffic.
The crews will bring more water to the site to give away to residents starting at 7 a.m., Whannell said.
The perfluorinated chemicals, known by the acronyms PFOS and PFOA, previously were found in a number of private residential wells east of Fairchild. The chemicals are believed to have come from a fire-extinguishing foam the Air Force used from 1970 until last year on a fire-training site as well as two locations where aircraft have crashed.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified the chemicals as a health risk last year, and the Pentagon launched a nationwide effort to find and mitigate contamination.
Fairchild officials said last week they had expanded their search farther east and south of the base; the chemicals had been detected at concerning levels in at least 17 wells. Officials began testing groundwater on the base in February, and off the base in early April.
In the statement, Air Force Col. Ryan Samuelson said that “we cannot know the extent to which any past base activities contributed to the PFOS/PFOA concentrations in this area.”
In a phone call, Airway Heights Mayor Kevin Ritchey said base officials tested four city wells and found contamination in three of them, all in the area of West 21st Avenue and South Lawson Street.
Ritchey said he was surprised to learn of the results Tuesday afternoon.
The city plans to stop pumping water from the affected wells and link its system with the city of Spokane’s, as it often does in the summer months to meet increased demand, Ritchey said. The city also has begun a flushing routine that should reduce chemical concentrations to safe levels within three or four days.
“The problem is the test results take about a week, so we’re talking seven to 10 days to be completely sure” the contamination is reduced, Ritchey said.
The EPA says most people have low levels of the chemicals in their bloodstreams because of exposure from consumer products. But a growing body of research suggests high concentrations are linked with health defects in lab animals, including low birth weight, high cholesterol, delayed puberty and poor responses to vaccination.
Some residents were upset and others seemed to take the water advisory in stride.
“I’m frustrated,” said Sharay Davis as she waited in line to collect water. “This shouldn’t have happened. It’s kind of ridiculous.”
Travis Baldwin said he’s lived near the base his entire life is not worried.
“I’m healthy,” he said.
The Air Force said the EPA’s recommendations are based on “cumulative lifetime exposure from water ingestion, not from skin contact or breathing water vapor.”
Officials are looking for alternative water sources and may install filtration systems on the affected wells.
“We care about the health and well-being of our families, neighbors and community partners, and we understand those impacted, or potentially impacted, by this emerging issue have legitimate concerns,” Samuelson said in the statement.
Water tested at a pair of contaminated Airway Heights wells contains chemical concentrations more than 15 times greater than thresholds established by federal regulators, according to city officials.
The Environmental Protection Agency has established a limit of 70 parts per trillion for chemicals, known by the acronyms PFOA and PFOS, that were used for decades in fire-retardant foam at a fire training site on Fairchild Air Force Base.
Two wells tested in Airway Heights showed levels above 1,100 parts per trillion, City Manager Albert Tripp said.
The wells have been shut off from the system as part of a flushing process that is expected to last until at least Monday, when the city will again test its supplies for traces of the chemicals.
The levels established by the EPA are not enforceable under any federal law, and the Spokane Regional Health District stresses that the link between exposure and potential health problems is not yet completely understood.
Airway Heights is pumping water into its system from Spokane to meet demand during the flushing period.
The city has been releasing potentially contaminated water from hydrants in locations that would minimize any new contamination, including spraying it in areas where city irrigation has been occurring for years, Anderson said.
“We’re trying to discharge it onto city properties as much as possible,” Anderson said.
Fairchild has lent its assistance in handing out bottled water to affected citizens, but several former and current city officials say the base could be providing additional water from its supplies that are drawn from areas far from contaminated zones.
Joe Martella, who served as mayor of Airway Heights in the late 1980s and early ’90s, said citizens were getting a “raw deal” by not receiving water from a pipe pumping water to the base from its source near Spokane Falls Community College. The current public works director said Airway Heights could quickly benefit from sharing supplies with the base.
“It would be very easy for us to connect to their system,” Public Works Director Kevin Anderson said.
Asked about the possibility of hooking up to Fairchild’s water system, Airway Heights Mayor Kevin Richey said, “I certainly hope so.”
“Those talks are coming,” he said, adding that buying water from Spokane was “not sustainable” because of the expense.
Fairchild has used water pumped from off-base wells since its establishment as a military installation in the 1940s, said Fred Zitterkopf, a retired civil engineer who worked there from 1973 to 1999.
“Fairchild wells produced enough water to operate Fairchild,” Zitterkopf said. “There wasn’t a large excess. They don’t have large amounts of water.”
Martella said the city signed agreements with Fairchild to allow pipes to run through town without any requirements the base would provide water in the event of an emergency. But Martella also said Fairchild could be helping out with the flushing by making its water, which is fluoridated once it arrives on the base, available for the flushing process.
“That water goes right through the middle of town,” Martella said. “I’m not mad at anybody, I’m just saying Airway Heights is getting a raw deal. The thing to fix it is right in front of your nose.”
A request for comment on why Fairchild has not offered its water to Airway Heights was not returned by base officials Friday.
Zitterkopf likened the current contamination issues to the efforts to clean up trichloroethylene (TCE). The chemical is common in industrial-grade solvents that were discovered in many locations on the base in the late 1980s, including the fire training site that has been identified as a likely source of the chemicals currently found in Airway Heights wells.
“Like many things, as time goes on, and tests go on and studies improve, things that were considered to be perfectly harmless 10 years earlier turn out to have some level of toxicity,” he said.
Zitterkopf, who led restoration efforts following the discovery of the contamination in the 1980s, said testing on the foam runoff was not conducted for PFOA and PFOS at the time because there were no standards, and the chemicals hadn’t been identified as hazardous by manufacturers or federal regulators.
“I’d never heard of that. That foam was an accepted practice anyplace, especially where you had large aircraft that would contain one heck of a lot of fuel,” Zitterkopf said.
Fairchild spent more than $1 million at the time in cleanup efforts and assisting private well owners in the area to remove the contaminant after it was named a Superfund site by the EPA.
Report back from US Air Force organized Public Relations event at Medical Lake High School on 5/24/17:
Fairchild Air Force Base now faces intense scrutiny of the recently-disclosed, decades-long contamination problem there, which now affecting drinking water wells and soils around the base, as well food production for prisoners at Airway Heights and senior meals services in the area. This is added to the dozens of chemicals of concern in and around Fairchild’s four EPA super fund sites and other yet undisclosed and/or little known environmental concerns there.
Last night (Tuesday, 5/24/17) the US Air Force, in the person of the Commander of Fairchild Air Force Base, began its public relations campaign in front of a large crowd at Medical Lake High School. The public relations show was run and coordinated by the US Air Force, with a large team of Public Affairs officer, JAG Corp attorneys, environmental engineers, and other staff, including undercover military security personnel. Brought in were some additional twenty person from a variety of local, state and federal agencies to begin the process of forming a unified message to tamp down public concern and anger over this issue. Present under coordination of the US Air Force were the US EPA (including personnel based in Washington, D.C.), the Washington State Department of Health, the Spokane Regional Health District, and the City of Airway Heights (along with additional police presence by the City of Airway Heights and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office). Among the “experts” who spoke and those staffing the several tables, there were no medical doctors.
This 35 minute 46 second complete video of the public presentation shows the totally inadequate and controlled presentation, a presentation was dominated by the Fairchild Base Commander who opened and closed the presentation and a US Air Force environmental engineering staff member.
The Fairchild Base commander – who personally told me after the presentations, to my stated disbelief, that he arrived at Fairchild in July 2016 but did not learn of the long-standing issue nor the EPA’s May 2016 announcement of life-time exposure issues for the two chemicals (PFOS and PFOA) in question until November 2016 – inappropriately cloaked his opening statements in extensive references to his personal integrity and in repeated calls for the public to maintain patriotic appreciation and respect for the mission of Fairchild and its military personnel of Fairchild.
The 35 minute snow job was finished off by an very questionable and in the end irresponsible presentation by Lauren Jenks, the Director of the Washington State Department of Health Office of Environmental Public Health Sciences. At about 25 minutes and 30 seconds of the presentation (nearly inaudible in the video) a woman in the public speaks up and specifically expresses concerns for pregnant women and unborn children. The Air Force engineer responds to her that people with wells will get filters and quickly stops any further public questions from the audience.
Jenks then began and continued with one of the principle messages of the coordinated presentation, that, as was said several times earlier in the night and by many of the assembled “experts” before and after the event at their tables, these are “emerging contaminates” being looked at with “new science”. Jenks proceeds to mention at 29 minutes of the video that these two poisons (again only two of an array of known contaminants including TCE and xylene found at and around Fairchild) are known to cause higher cholesterol and higher incidents of some kinds of cancer including kidney and testicular cancers.
Jenks then states, “When people, when fetuses, when babies are exposed in the mother’s womb, some of the kids were born smaller than others, not very small, and as they grew they caught up with everyone else. Some kids responded to vaccines differently. They had strong response to vaccines. So it looks like they may have some immune issues”. Perhaps she should have stopped there but she went on.
At 32 minutes and 30 seconds of the video, Jenks states, “In gardening…if the chemicals are in the water, they are likely in the dirt. And if they are in the dirt, there is likely to be a little bit of them in vegetables. That being said, there are so many great benefits to the physical activity of having a garden, to eating your vegetables, that in my public health opinion they far out weigh the additional small amount of PFOA and PFOS that you can find in those vegetables. So my advise would be to continue to garden and to continue to eat those vegetables.”
This – and promises from (cough cough) the US Air Force – were the extent of the science and the extent of the response.
Superfund Site Information
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE (4 WASTE AREAS) (EPA ID: WA9571924647)
The below list only includes contaminants identified as contaminants of concern (COCs) for this site. COCs are the site-specific chemical substances that the health assessor selects for further evaluation of potential health effects. Identifying contaminants of concern is a process that requires the assessor to examine contaminant concentrations at the site, the quality of environmental sampling data and the potential for human exposure.
|Groundwater||CHLOROETHENE (VINYL CHLORIDE)|
|Groundwater||TOTAL PETROLEUM HYDROCARBONS (TPH)|
|Soil||TOTAL PETROLEUM HYDROCARBONS (TPH)|
USAF KC-135 carried out first refueling of Saudi F-15, UAE F-16
The U.S. Air Force has started the first aerial refueling of fighter aircraft taking part in the air campaign in Yemen.
By TECH. SGT. H. H. DEFFNER [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A KC-135 transferred fuel to a Saudi F-16 and a UAE F-16 on the night of Apr. 7.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Central Command plans to fly one refueling sortie each day.