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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Riverkeeper hosting public forum on PFAS chemicals that tainted West Plains drinking water

In this June 7, 2018 photo, PFAS foam gathers at the the Van Etten Creek dam in Oscoda Township, Michigan, near Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are generating substantial public health concern across the United States. The chemicals are polluting drinking water and the environment at sites where they were used and discarded by industry, or seeped into the ground as leftover contaminants in chemical-based firefighting foam. (Jake May / AP)

Local, state and federal officials will discuss the environmental and health impacts of the chemicals known as PFAS, which have contaminated drinking water around Fairchild Air Force Base, during a public forum at Gonzaga University.

The two-hour forum, organized by the Spokane Riverkeeper, will begin at 6 p.m. April 17 in the Barbieri Courtroom at Gonzaga’s School of Law. It will be free and open to the public.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a family of man-made compounds used in nonstick and stain-resistant consumer products, as well as firefighting foam used at military bases including Fairchild, where the chemicals seeped into the water table.

The compounds, which have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they are expected to take hundreds or thousands of years to break up, have been linked to a host of health problems, including kidney, testicular, bladder and prostate cancer, as well as immune, reproductive and hormonal dysfunction.

The Pentagon recently estimated it would cost about $2 billion to clean up the chemicals at more than 400 military installations.

Spokane Riverkeeper Jerry White Jr. said the public forum was made possible by a grant of about $100,000 from the Washington Department of Ecology. Presenters will include

    Arthur Wendel, acting regional director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry;

    Kevin Anderson, public works director for the city of Airway Heights;

    Carina Wells, a campaign organizer with Toxic-Free Future, a Seattle-based advocacy group;

    Kara Steward, a hazardous waste and toxics expert with the Ecology Department; and

    Dorothy Tibbetts, regional manager of the drinking water division of the state Department of Health.