Paul's Note - October 5, 2018

Many of you read the story by Tony Davis that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday about the closure of a water treatment plant that serves a large portion of the city including downtown, midtown and the northwest side.

The closure was prompted by the discovery of Perflorinated Compounds, known as PFCs, in a test well. This was discovered after officials had realized that the well was sampling from the wrong location. This led them to believe that a plant that had been designed to decontaminate TCE and 1,4-dioxane had also been taking PFCs out of the water as well.

This turned out not to be the case when they reconfigured the well to sample from the right location. They found that the water was 30 parts per trillion. That’s below the federal standard of 70 parts per trillion, roughly 70 drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Still, we shouldn’t diminish what that means. Exceedingly small amounts of substances like this in the body can cause diseases, and compounds like PFCs can build up in the body because they don’t break down. This is a serious issue, and people in Tucson were rightly concerned when the story was published this weekend.

I know that Tucson Water has been taking this seriously. They shut down the treatment plant temporarily and wells that didn’t meet Tucson Water’s standards are still off-line. The water that is being delivered now is meeting Tucson Water’s standard of 18 parts per trillion. The reason that the sampling was done in the first place was to ensure that our water was meeting this higher standard.

Both those stronger standards and the openness with which these issues are dealt with are due to the leadership of Tucson Water’s director, Tim Thomure. He’s been a valuable partner with the council not only on this issue, but broader issues with water resources in our community. I have full faith and confidence in him as our water director.

We’ve been given regular updates on issues around TCE, 1,4-dioxane and PFCs, the latest one came at the end of August. We’ve been kept informed as a council and the public has been kept informed through the media.

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Most of the time when I write about water, I write about conservation and supply issues. The issue of contamination, however, has been a huge issue in our community for decades. I was barely a teenager when TCE contamination was front and center in the water dialogue in our community.

The issues around TCE contamination are what led to the building of treatment plants and the formation of the Unified Community Advisory Board. UCAB’s is composed of both members of the community and government agencies. They’ve been serving as both a board to advise and supervise ongoing operations to clean up our groundwater, and as a way to keep the public informed. They meet quarterly and their meetings are open to the public. Their next meeting is on October 17 at 5:45 pm at El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, 101 W. Irvington.

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PFCs, by the way, are used in a variety of household products. They are used in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and even in clothes to make them waterproof. In this case, the contamination likely came from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base given where the chemical has been detected. A fire suppression chemical that was used on base for years had PFCs, and that product is no longer used by the Air Force.

There is recognition on the part of the Air Force about the effect these chemicals have had in the past, and they have been a partner in helping us clean up our water. I’d like to see other parts of our federal government show a similar concern.

Ostensibly, the Environmental Protection Agency should be a partner too, and they have been at the local level. Actions by that agency’s and our country’s political leadership have not been as helpful, particularly when it comes to PFCs.

Back in May, the federal administration sought to block a Health and Human Services report on the effects of PFCs on infants and nursing mothers. In May, he and White House officials denied access by reporters and the public to a summit meeting with EPA officials and industry on PFC regulation.

We need to keep vigilant as a city on this issue, but we also need to make sure that new policies from the federal government that don’t encourage the use of these chemicals or weaken existing regulations on them.