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Unfluoridated well in Tacoma closed after higher level of chemicals detected

Water contamination shuts down public well in south Tacoma.

The Oak Tree Park's unfluoridated water well - one of two public-access sources in Tacoma - is turned off because of PFAS contamination. A second unfluoridated well in the Midland area remains open.
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The Oak Tree Park's unfluoridated water well - one of two public-access sources in Tacoma - is turned off because of PFAS contamination. A second unfluoridated well in the Midland area remains open.

A Tacoma Water well used by those seeking unflouridated water has been shut down after chemicals commonly tied to firefighting foam showed up at a higher-than-acceptable level in a test at the site.

“This is one of our smaller well sources, but we wanted to make sure the community was aware of this, “ said Scott Dewhirst, Tacoma Water superintendent. “To the majority of our customers, this is a non-issue.”

The public access well at 7440 S. Cedar St. had served individuals coming to fill containers. It was one of two sources of unflouridated water and had served customers for that purpose since 1995, though Tacoma Water estimates it was originally drilled in 1948 or 1949.

The utility’s voluntary testing at the site for manmade perfluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, showed levels at 164 parts per trillion, exceeding the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level of 70 ppt.

Two later samples showed the level at 60 ppt at the well; a test from the sample tap was 53 ppt.

The source of the contamination is still under investigation.

Most of Tacoma Water’s supply, and what most people likely drink from taps at home, comes filtered from the Green River, where tests detected no PFAS, according to Tacoma Water representatives.

There are no immediate symptoms with PFAS exposure, and the main health recommendation is to stop drinking water that has elevated levels. Effects of long-term exposure is still being researched.

Tacoma Water closed the Cedar Street well Sept. 19 after the first test.

Follow-up confirmations and sampling happened after that in coordination with the state Department of Health, Dewhirst said. The second set of results with the lower readings came back last week.

While it is not known how many people used the well, about 100 gallons of water were taken on average each day, officials said.

“The only way customers could be exposed is that they had to individually go to this well and get their water there,” said Craig Downs, water quality manager for Tacoma Water.

No final decision has been made, but the well might not be brought back into service, given the cost of upgrades, officials said.

Tacoma Water’s other well for unflouridated water, at 1614 99th St. E. in the Midland area, showed “negligible” levels of PFAS, and will remain open.

The chemicals can be found in nonstick, stain-resistant or water-resistant items, from furniture to coating on food packaging. Up to 98 percent of Americans might have some level of the compounds in their bloodstreams.

Nationwide, PFAS in water sources typically are related to firefighting foam, with the compounds found near fire training sites, military bases and airports. In 2017, three wells at Joint Base Lewis-McChord were shut down after high PFAS test results.

Because PFAS is an “emerging” compound under EPA regulations, state and local agencies have started collecting data to determine its presence only in the past few years.

For those who collected water from the closed well, more information is available at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department website: www.tpchd.org/pfas or at Tacoma Water’s website: www.MyTPU.org/pfas. The state Health Department also has a page devoted to the topic.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell
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