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The Silent Threat: PFAS Forever Chemical Contamination in Spokane's West Plains

The Spokane region, known for its picturesque landscapes and vibrant communities, has recently been grappling with a disturbing revelation: the contamination of its groundwater with toxic chemicals. The culprits? Persistent and hazardous compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often referred to as "forever chemicals."

This issue first came to light in the West Plains area, where residents started experiencing unexplained illnesses. For instance, Larry Zambryski, an X-ray technician from Spokane, suffered from mysterious thyroid problems, which later escalated to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, ultimately leading to his death. The tragedy extended to his family and even his pets, with his mother-in-law and two of his dogs succumbing to cancer.

West Plains PFAS PFOS Fairchild Airforce Base Water Contamination CDC

The root of these health issues became apparent when Marcie Zambryski, Larry's widow, discovered that their well water was contaminated with PFAS. These chemicals, linked to a myriad of health issues including cancer, are known for their extreme persistence in the environment and difficulty to eradicate.

The story of Jim Dalton, another resident, echoes this alarming situation. Dalton battled kidney cancer, unaware that his well was also tainted with PFAS. Shelly Sumner, a local breeder, faced liver issues in her dogs, leading her to test her well water, which unfortunately confirmed the presence of PFAS.

The contamination extends beyond individual households. Airway Heights, a community on the West Plains, has resorted to purchasing water from the City of Spokane since discovering PFAS in its municipal well. The gravity of the situation is underscored by the fact that the local Air Force base, previously thought to be the sole source of contamination due to its use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam, is not the only contributor. The Spokane International Airport (SIA) has now been identified as another significant polluter.

Shockingly, SIA was aware of its role in this contamination for years but chose to keep its well test results confidential. It wasn't until a concerned citizen unearthed these results and brought them to the attention of the Washington Department of Ecology that the airport's involvement became public knowledge. As a result, SIA is now recognized as a liable party under the state’s Model Toxics Control Act and is required to develop a cleanup plan.

The implications of this contamination are vast and deeply concerning. Not only do they affect private well owners who have to bear the cost of testing and filtration, but they also hinder regional development and growth. For instance, plans for housing projects have been scrapped due to unsafe water supplies, illustrating the far-reaching impact of PFAS contamination.

The cleanup process for PFAS is complicated and lengthy, given the chemical's resistance to degradation and the intricate nature of the aquifer systems. Efforts are underway to map the contamination more comprehensively and provide the public with crucial information about the safety of their water sources.

In summary, the PFAS contamination in the West Plains is a stark reminder of the hidden dangers lurking in our environment. It calls for urgent action and awareness, not only from the responsible parties but also from the community and regulatory bodies, to ensure the safety and well-being of all affected residents.

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