PFAS

Aqueous film-forming foam, a fire suppressant, is currently being phased out of use by the U.S. military. The foam is a major source of PFAS contamination in drinking water around the country.

The city of Fairbanks connected two private properties with wells to the municipal water system in 2020-2021 after discovering high levels of a toxic chemical found in firefighting foams.

Fairbanks regularly monitors ground water in southwest Fairbanks for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAs. The city has sampled water at 150 locations and continues monitoring private wells.

Since 2017, 51 properties — homes and businesses — have been connected to municipal water after PFA levels were found to be near or above the lifetime health advisory set by the EPA. 

Most of the mitigation work was done in 2017 and 2018. But ongoing sampling of contaminated well water identified two properties in 2020-2021 — a duplex on Picket Place and a business on Davis Road, said Andrew Ackerman, environmental manager for the city of Fairbanks.

Properties with PFA levels at or above EPA standards are connected to the municipal water supply for free. The city provides the property owner with free bottled water until the work is completed. Connecting to city water normally may cost a property owner up to $25,000 to $30,000.

Ackerman said the city does water sampling south of Airport Way, with University Avenue as the western boundary.

An underground plume with contaminants from firefighting foam extends from the Fairbanks Regional Fire Training Center, off 39th Avenue, traveling in a northwesterly direction. 

The training center is the major source of contamination that the city monitors.

“We did remediation at the source in 2016, and so we cleaned up as much as we could,” Ackerman said. “A lot of the [pollution] is moving toward the Chena River, traveling and being dispersed.”

The city of Fairbanks is the designated party for monitoring and managing contaminants from firefighting foam that leached into groundwater from training exercises at the regional firefighter training center.

“We as a city are working to mitigate exposure, and we are looking for ways to eliminate future exposure,” Ackerman said.

“Right now there are not any known exposures even approaching the EPA lifetime health advisory” for PFAs, he added. 

A second plume with PFA contaminants that leached into the groundwater from the Fairbanks International Airport is being monitored and managed by the state.

Both the city and state have separate lawsuits against the chemical manufacturers of the firefighting foam to recover damages from the contamination.

PFA contamination remains in the environment for decades, forming large plumes in groundwater and surface water. 

In 2019, the city of Fairbanks sued 3M Co. and Tyco Fire Products to recover the city’s costs responding to groundwater contamination from firefighting foam used at the Fairbanks Regional Fire Training Center. That lawsuit is being heard in federal court.

Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.