Affected residential wells in Airway Heights to get water filtration systems
SPOKANE, Wash. — On Monday, Fairchild Air Force Base’s Civil Engineer Center began the process of installing water filters for homeowners whose wells tested above the EPA’s lifetime limit of PFOS and PFOA, chemicals found in flame retardant once used by the base.
“This is the milestone we’ve been working toward; now that it’s started, we will fight to keep this momentum going forward,” said FAFB Wing Commander Col. Ryan Samuelson in a press release sent by the base. “We will continue pushing for more progress to mitigate water contamination for our neighbors,” he said.
For almost one year, residents whose private wells were contaminated have only been able to drink bottled water. Their well water is approved for other uses- but not for drinking.
Crews are now installing Granular Activated Carbon filters in about a dozen homes in the Airway Heights area. Project engineer Paul Stull says the filters are along the lines of a Brita filter- only these are much larger and tailored for specific chemicals.
“You run the water through these filters and the chemicals attach themselves to each of the carbon particles and that’s whats adsorbing them, onto the surface as opposed to adsorb into it,” Stull said.
Stull works for Amec Foster Wheeler, an international company that the Air Force has contracted to work on this project and others. He says his team has been consulting with homeowners in the Airway Heights area for several months, to determine how to mitigate the contamination.
“It really depends upon how the homeowner’s system is operating right now and how it’s laid out. Some are very challenging, some are not,” he said.
One of those homeowners is Millwee Holler-Kanaga, whose home is just up the street from Amec Foster Wheeler’s staging site.
Holler-Kanaga spoke to KXLY last year, when she found out her well was contaminated and started a lawsuit against the base.
She’s lived in her home since 1994. She moved there, from the house across the street, where she had lived since 1960. When KXLY spoke to her on Tuesday afternoon, she was waiting for someone from the project team to stop by. Her well measured at 107 parts per trillion- the EPA’s lifetime limit is 70 ppt.
“My stress level gets very high,” she said.
Her yard bears the marks of planned construction- including spray painted lines for where the six water filters and their power supplies will go. In order to ensure that the filters have the right conditions to work properly, changes will need to be made to her storage shed- so they’ve arranged to get a new shed for the items the filters will displace.
“The Air Force asked me if they could give me a shed, out here to put… and I said ‘Of course you may give me a shed to put things in,'” Holler-Kanaga said.
Stull says part of what takes time to get a project like this underway is consulting with each homeowner and assessing what needs or does not need to be done. Once a plan is developed and approved, and a contract signed by the homeowner, the actual construction can begin. Once the filters are installed- a test sample of the water is sent for analysis.
“Once we’ve done this and certified these with lab testing, they’ll be able to drink their water again,” Stull said.
Holler-Kanaga said she’s grateful FAFB is trying to make amends, and keep contamination from continuing- she says she thinks especially of the children who live in houses nearby.
But she said Tuesday, as she did in May of 2017, that the land she’s lived on for most of her life no longer feels like home.
“I won’t stay here. Soon as I am able to move, I will and that’s sad because it’s been my home since 1960,” she said.
Holler-Kanaga and several other residents of the Airway Heights area affected by the water contamination filed a complaint in federal court last week, seeking action from 3M and several other companies who manufacture and distribute the flame retardant used by FAFB.
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