A new report showed the prevalence of toxic chemicals in the drinking water of several Alaska towns — but so far the toxins have not been found at unsafe levels in Kenai.
The report, published by nonprofit Alaska Community Action on Toxics, explores the prevalence of the toxins, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in Alaska’s drinking water.
At airports and military facilities, PFAS is often found in firefighting foam, which can leach into the ground when used.
PFAS contamination was confirmed at nearly every site investigated, the report said.
In December 2018, six wells near Kenai Airport were sampled for 14 different PFAS compounds. Tests did not detect unsafe PFAS levels above the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation August 2018 Action Levels — health advisory levels set by Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. Valdez and Cordova airports similarly showed little to no PFAS contamination.
Two wells in Kenai did show levels of perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) at levels below 1 part per million, the report said.
The PFAS exposure is linked to adverse health outcomes, including liver and kidney damage, reproductive and developmental harm, immune system impairment and certain cancers, according to the report.
PFAS contamination and impacts to the safety of drinking water have been found originating from the Fairbanks, Utqiagvik, Gustavus, Dillingham, King Salmon and Yakutat airports, the report said.
Preliminary sampling at Anchorage International Airport indicates the need for further testing, and results are pending for Juneau International Airport, according to the report.
PFAS contamination at the Homer Airport has not been tested and is unknown.
Under Walker, the state tested for several different kinds of chemicals. In April 2019, Gov. Mike Dunleavy lowered standards for testing, and now, the state Department of Conservation only tests for two of those chemicals.
“In choosing to limit future testing of PFAS compounds to only PFOS and PFOA, the Dunleavy Administration acted against the recommendations of career and environmental public health professionals in both the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and ignored the evidence presented in more than 90 studies that identify adverse health effects for PFHxS and PFNA (Schlichting, 2019),” the report said.
Alaska Community Action on Toxics encouraged state and federal agencies to stop using firefighting foams containing PFAS, provide safe drinking water to communities, ensure responsible cleanup of contaminated areas and require biomonitoring and medical monitoring of people in communities affected by PFAS-contaminated drinking water. The report also asks that the state take proactive measures and set maximum contaminant levels for PFAS in drinking water.
“Alaska should follow the lead of other states that are establishing stringent standards and not wait for action at the federal level,” the report said. “Given the evidence of harm to human health at extremely low exposure levels, we recommend establishing a (maximum contaminant levels) of 1 part per million for all PFAS.”