Dillingham PFAS testing expands to new wells

Jul 23, 2021

The goal is to identify primary areas of contamination. That could include any space where firefighting foam was used, for instance, in accidents, emergency situations or training activities. In the past, the state did not require records of these situations.

PFAS testing in 2018 at a popular drinking well at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church revealed high levels of contamination. There's at least six contaminated water sources in Dillingham.
Credit KDLG/Avery Lill

  

Credit Sammy Cummings, Alaska DOT PFAS Manager

The Alaska Department of Transportation will expand PFAS testing around Dillingham to gather data and identify the extent of contamination in the city.

PFAS Program Manager Sammy Cummings says the department contracted with Shannon & Wilson, an Anchorage based engineering company, to characterize sites near the airport.

“That includes soil and sediment samples; groundwater and surface water samples; developing monitoring wells and sampling those wells," she said. "So by the end of this effort approximately 20 monitoring wells will be developed. Then we’ll have a monitoring well system with those wells to continue sampling.”

PFAS substances or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals found in many materials, including firefighting foam. The contamination in Dillingham wells is due to runoff from the foam used during annual airport safety drills since the 1970s. According to the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, high exposure to the chemicals over a long period of time could harm a person's health.

Cummings says their goal is to identify primary areas of contamination. That could include any space where firefighting foam was used, for instance, in accidents, emergency situations or training activities. In the past, the state did not require records of these situations.

“So site characterization efforts will help us identify any gaps in documentation that we have," she said. "That way when we go to remediate or trying to understand why there’s contamination in a certain area, this data will validate that.”

There are at least six water wells in Dillingham that are contaminated by PFAS chemicals. High levels of

Areas identified as contaminated zones around the airport.
Credit Sammy Cummings, Alaska DOT PFAS Manager

contamination were discovered in the well of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in 2018. It was a popular drinking well in Dillingham, with a PFAS count measuring at more than three times the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s health advisory level.

Site characterization should be complete by Saturday. Residents can email questions about PFAS to airportwater@alaska.gov or visit the DOT’s website under airport water for more information.

The DOT also handed claim forms over to impacted well owners this summer. Those people should file a claim with the Division of Risk Management as soon as possible. They can find that contact information at the following website https://dot.alaska.gov/airportwater/dillingham/.

Contact the author at tyler@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200

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