Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ discovered in drinking water all over Washington

May 19, 2023, 6:45 AM

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

(Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

Toxic “forever chemicals” discovered in drinking water all over Washington have forced several communities to find an alternative source. This comes as the state is requiring water districts to test for chemicals known as PFAS.

The tiny particles come from Teflon, firefighting foam, and most coatings that make something waterproof. The CDC says over time, it’s linked to health risks like cancer among other health impacts.

Now the Washington State Department of Health has launched a new dashboard that shows people if their tap water has been contaminated with PFAS. So far, about two percent of test results have come back with unsafe levels, according to state standards.

“It is very concerning. And I hope it’s something that’s being taken care of,” said Kendal Hansen, a parent in Des Moines.

In the data breakdown, green dots mean good. Yellow means some PFAS were detected. But a purple result shows enough PFAS were detected to be considered unsafe according to the state’s threshold – particularly for most vulnerable populations.

“If you are pregnant nursing, using that water for formula – we’d encourage you to look for alternatives, either using an alternative water source or using a filter,” said Holly Myers, with the DOH’s Office of Drinking Water. She recommended consumers purchase filters that have been independently tested and confirmed to filter out PFAS. The state has a list of those filters available in Washington.

About a quarter of Washington state’s water suppliers have been tested so far. The DOH says it started with the sources believed most likely to be contaminated, and hoped that as testing continued, the percentage of water sources coming back problematic would drop.

One site that came back unsafe during testing last year was in the Highline Water District – specifically, PFAS in its Tyee Well water source. The well provided about 4.5% of the district’s water.

Highline Water District’s general manager, Jeremy DelMar, says they took action right away and the district voluntarily took the well offline. Instead, it switched to purchasing more water from Seattle Public Utilities.

“What we’ve done is take the most proactive and conservative approach that we could do –  basically shutting off that source to prevent any more identified PFAS from entering our system.  So there is no more threat of PFAS in the Highline system,” DelMar said over the phone. “Health welfare and safety is our ultimate paramount duty,” he said.

The water district also sent notices to more than 1,000 customers in an area that may have been impacted. It includes the North Hill Elementary School and surrounding homes, primarily in Des Moines.

“We were notified about it,” said Kendal Hansen, a parent of three kids. “I do definitely worry about things like that.  The signs might not show up for another 10, 20 years,” she said.

A spokesperson for North Hill Elementary School said the district said drinking water at the school is filtered.

The DOH did not know specifically where the source of the PFAS was coming from for the Tyee Well, but areas with long histories of firefighter training using fire-suppressant foam were one source of PFAS contamination.

Other water providers that showed unsafe water results include certain water services in Sammamish, three locations south of Olympia, a mobile home park in Kitsap County, Vancouver, and San Juan Island – which currently has about 40 homes serviced by water that’s getting trucked to the island.  Most water providers have already taken action to find alternative water sources.

Highline Water District says the Tyee Well will be offline until it can find a funding source and reliable filtration method to clean the water.

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