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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fairchild Air Force Base expands search for contaminated groundwater

A KC-135 Stratotanker undergoes maintenance at Fairchild Air Force Base, Feb. 14, 2017. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Air Force officials have expanded their search for contaminated groundwater after testing found chemical runoff affecting neighbors of Fairchild Air Force Base.

Officials said Wednesday that the perfluorinated chemicals, known by the acronyms PFOS and PFOA, have been found at concerning levels in 17 residential wells, including some that supply drinking water. Between Monday and Wednesday afternoon, samples were taken from roughly 30 additional wells and sent to a private lab.

The wells tested in the first round are near Thorpe, Rambo and Craig roads, just east of the base. The wells currently being tested are spread farther east and south of the base, including some along Highway 902 and on Hayford Road near Interstate 90. All are roughly within a mile of the base.

Fairchild spokesman Scott King said base officials asked the lab to expedite testing. They are supplying bottled water to residents affected by the contamination.

The chemicals are suspected to have come from a fire-extinguishing foam that was used for more than four decades on a training site on the edge of the base, as well as two locations where aircraft have crashed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified the chemicals as a health risk last year, and the Pentagon launched a nationwide effort to find and mitigate contamination.

The EPA says most people have low levels of the compounds in their bloodstreams because of exposure from consumer products. But a growing body of research suggests high concentrations are linked with health defects in lab animals, including low birth weight, high cholesterol, delayed puberty and poor responses to vaccination.

In a statement, Col. Ryan Samuelson, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing stationed at Fairchild, said officials “will remain completely transparent” and “understand the concerns of everyone impacted, or potentially impacted, by this emerging issue.”

Base officials, joined by local and regional regulators, plan to hold a public informational meeting at 6 p.m. May 23 in the Medical Lake High School auditorium.