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Oil, Solvents In Water Pose Low Health Risk State Tracks Contaminants From Fairchild

Contaminated ground water from Fairchild Air Force Base is not expected to cause health problems for Airway Heights residents, according to a state Department of Health assessment released Wednesday.

“The bottom line is it is good news. The exposures we determined are very low,” said Rob Duff, with the state Department of Health.

Duff had one reservation however; if pregnant women drank water from the Vietzke Village trailer park prior to 1989, their children might have a slightly increased risk for heart defects.

Fairchild was put on the nation’s Superfund list in 1989 after fuel oil, solvents and metals were found in the ground water and soil.

As a Superfund site, the base is required to clean up pollution with oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology.

The assessment released Wednesday is another Superfund requirement. It was done by the Washington state Department of Health for the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Duff said the assessment would have been done sooner, but Fairchild was not considered a high priority of 96 Department of Defense sites examined in 1991 by the agency.

The assessment is available for public scrutiny at the Spokane Public Library and the Airway Heights Library. Comments on the document will be taken until Sept. 5. Duff will examine any public input, then prepare a final draft of the health assessment by late September. In October, public meetings will be held to answer any questions, Duff said.

Barring new data, the public meetings will conclude any investigations into health risks from Fairchild, Duff said.

The base’s Craig Road Landfill and wastewater lagoons are the major sources of the ground-water contamination.

The highest level of contamination found in the assessment was from well water supplied to the Vietzke Village trailer park in 1989. At that time, one well showed 80 parts per billion of trichloroethylene, a solvent used to clean oil from metal.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, TCE in concentrations beyond 5 parts per billion is considered a health risk.

Vietzke Village residents stopped using the contaminated water that year. The well was plugged with cement in 1993. There is no data prior to 1989 on TCE levels in the trailer park’s water.

If pregnant women drank the well water prior to 1989, their children might have a slightly increased risk of heart defects. Only about five births per 1,000 would have the higher risk, Duff said.

Since residents at the trailer park frequently come and go, it would be difficult to determine if they suffered from the tainted water, Duff said.

He also noted that the risk factors for TCE are based on the assumption someone would drink the contaminated water for decades.

Other findings of the assessment include:

Some West Thorpe Road residents are being exposed to very low levels of TCE - .84 ppb recorded during a March sample - from residential drinking water wells.

Airway Heights residents using the public water supply are being exposed to .7 ppb of TCE.

Employees working at the Scafco Corp. facility on Craig Road in Airway Heights were exposed to low levels of TCE. In March 1996, .67 ppb was detected. The well was abandoned.

Children playing at Warrior Park, on the base, may be exposed to unsafe levels of lead in the soil. Tests showed there may be a problem, but the data was inconclusive, Duff said. The assessment recommended more tests of the park.

Children who have played in and around No-Name Ditch were exposed to fuel oil and low levels of metals in surface water and sediment.

The assessment recommended that West Thorpe Road residential wells continue to be monitored until the area is free of underground contamination.

Copies of the report can be requested from Duff at the Washington State Department of Health, Office of Toxic Substances, Airdustrial Center, Building 4, P.O. Box 47825, Olympia, WA 98504-7825.

, DataTimes