• Chemical linked to cancer found in Tacoma well

    By: Jessica Oh


    A health advisory was issued after traces of a chemical linked to firefighting foam were discovered in a drinking water well in South Tacoma. Firefighters insist the chemical is linked to cancer.

    Tacoma Water immediately shut down the well on South Cedar Street, which provides unfloridated water. People use about 100 gallons of water from the well every day, according to officials. Residents and customers have to go to the location to pump the water gallon by gallon.

    The well was closed after officials with Tacoma Water discovered more than double the EPA's acceptable levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the water in September. While it's not a dangerous amount, Superintendent Scott Dewhirst said the city wanted to be extremely careful.

    "There are a lot of ways that customers can be exposed to PFAS," Dewhirst said. "But in the water community, this has just become a national interest. That's why we did some voluntary testing to find out what our possible exposures could be."

    PFAS is commonly used in firefighting foam. Experts believe that's how it seeped into water sources by airports, fire training sites and military bases. Three wells at JBLM were contaminated in 2017. Water sources in Whidbey Island and Airway Heights had traces of PFAS, too. KIRO 7 also learned a well in the city of Issaquah had 31 times the accepted levels of PFAS.

    While experts are still studying health effects, people exposed to the chemical the most say the consequences can be dangerous, even deadly.

    Michael White with the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters says studies have shown the chemical is dangerous.

    "The Port of Seattle Fire Department, which protects SeaTac Airport, they have had a kind of cancer epidemic within their own fire department," he says, "They've had three unique cases of pancreatic cancer."

    The City of Tacoma will keep the well closed, despite recent tests that came back well under the EPA's acceptable limit for PFAS.

    "We really do not intend to bring that well back on until we have a better understanding of what the next step is," Dewhirst said.

    Tacoma's Public Health Department is urging concerned customers to learn more about PFAS and the potential impact the chemical can have: https://www.tpchd.org/healthy-people/drinking-water/pfos-pfoa-and-your-health

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