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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Toxin taints Colbert well

Spokane County is offering free drinking water to Colbert residents who rely on a well recently found to be contaminated by a probable human carcinogen.

It’s unknown if the chemical, 1,4-dioxane, is dangerous to humans at the levels discovered in the recent tests, but county officials offered bottled water for drinking and cooking to all 34 households reliant on the North Glen Community Well. Residents were hand-delivered letters Thursday describing the situation and announcing a community meeting next week.

Dioxane cannot be filtered out of water or treated by boiling.

“I’ve already ordered the water,” said Barbara Duffy, adding that she will attend the meeting next week to learn more. “We’ll just go and not panic and get more information, and then act accordingly.”

The bottled water is just a precaution, said Neil Thompson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency project manager for the Colbert Landfill Superfund site, the source of the water contamination.

“The people who have been drinking from that well have not been drinking from a well that violates health standards of any kind,” said Thompson.

North Glen Water Association President Chan Bailey said he won’t ask for the bottled water.

“I’m not 100 percent convinced there is a large risk involved here,” Bailey said.

But it is one more hassle for homeowners to deal with, he added.

Some area wells were contaminated by other chemicals in the early 1980s, and the regional solid waste system was forced a few years ago to purchase more than a dozen Colbert homes because of the stench from a nearby composting facility.

Spokane County has been testing for more than two decades the water near the former Colbert Landfill, but August was the first time the state asked the county to test for 1,4-dioxane, said county engineering technician Deb Geiger.

When the county discovered dioxane’s presence at the end of August, confirmation tests were immediately ordered up, said Geiger. The results of those tests arrived on Wednesday.

The test found concentrations of 11 parts per billion in the water.

“It shouldn’t be a scare thing. We’re talking really small numbers here,” said Thompson.

Washington state calls for cleaning up 1,4-dioxane at levels of 7.95 parts per billion, but the EPA does not have a federal drinking water standard for the compound.

“It’s kind of a new thing – the ‘contaminant of the week’ as our EPA guy calls it,” said Geiger.

There is very little data on 1,4-dioxane’s effects on humans, but it has been found to cause liver and kidney damage in rats. The compound does not build up in human tissue.

Its primary use is as a stabilizer for solvents and it’s found in trace amounts in some shampoos, detergents and cosmetics.

One solution may be to hook the homes into the Whitworth water district, said county spokesman Ron Kole.Geiger said the county will do whatever is necessary to protect people who use the North Glen well: “We’re erring on the side of caution here.”

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