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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Department of Ecology forces Spokane International Airport into PFAS cleanup framework after agreement could not be reached

Holiday travelers wait to check in at the Southwest Airlines ticket counters Dec. 23, 2020, at the Spokane International Airport.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Washington Department of Ecology has ordered Spokane International Airport to begin making cleanup plans for PFAS, dangerous chemicals to which people on the West Plains have been exposed for decades, after the two sides negotiated unsuccessfully for six months.

Ecology was alerted to PFAS contamination at the airport last year. The effort to build a cleanup plan was initially expected to take place over 60 days, but Ecology extended the process three times over five months at the airport’s request.

The presence of the hazardous chemicals in West Plains residential water after years of runoff from firefighting foam at the airport and nearby Fairchild Air Force Base has been the target of an ongoing cleanup effort.

The Department of Ecology declined to extend negotiations after a fourth request from the airport last month. Instead, the agency allowed the airport until March 29 to sign on to the agreement that had been negotiated up until that point. That date having passed, the state agency entered an enforcement order legally obligating the airport to begin planning the cleanup.

The enforcement order is largely the same agreement that had been negotiated. Should the airport not comply with the enforcement order, Ecology can take the airport to court.

“After many attempts at negotiations, we have moved to issuing the Spokane International Airport an enforcement order. This approach begins the cleanup process and holds Spokane International Airport accountable to ensure the safety of human health,” Department of Ecology spokesperson Stephanie May said in a statement.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the airport did not immediately respond to The Spokesman-Review.

Spokane City Council President and Spokane airport board member Betsy Wilkerson declined to comment on why an agreement could not be reached. She did confirm the airport board had been made aware of the enforcement order and said Spokane International Airport was being “proactive” in the PFAS investigation.

Based upon the airport’s previous requests for extensions, at issue in the dispute are Federal Aviation Administration regulations the airport officials believe may prevent them from using their funds for Ecology’s overhead costs or to clean up chemical contamination not on airport property.

The order begins a yearslong investigation and cleanup effort involving extensive public comment. Ecology is holding a 60-day comment period on the order and the plan outlining the public participation of the project.

“Any public input about the investigation, such as personal knowledge of the site’s history or places you believe should be investigated, can be used as we develop the remedial investigation work plan,” reads the Ecology announcement.

Comments can be summited by emailing or by mailing the agency at 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, WA 99205.

The Department of Ecology will hold a community meeting to discuss the documents and cleanup plan at 6:30 p.m. May 6 at 12703 W. 14th Ave. in Airway Heights.

Under the enforcement order, Spokane International Airport is required to conduct a remedial investigation that identifies the magnitude and extent of contamination at the site. That is followed by a feasibility study comparing methods to clean up the contamination.

This planning process will take approximately two years. While formal cleanup will not begin until these two steps are completed, the airport would be required to clean up an exposure that cannot wait. Under the enforcement order, the airport is required to submit its first report as part of this process on May 28.