Arizona agency investigates water contamination from base

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona agency that regulates utilities is calling together water companies near Luke Air Force Base in metro Phoenix, where drinking water was found to be contaminated with chemicals commonly found in firefighting foam.

The Arizona Corporation Commission was holding an emergency open meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the recent discovery of the chemicals — which prompted the U.S. Air Force to start distributing bottled water to thousands of residents and business owners.

Commissioner Anna Tovar has encouraged affected residents to join the meeting being held online.

“I want to make sure the residents and businesses near the base can trust the water coming out of their taps,” Tovar said before the meeting.

Luke Air Force Base said in February that studies showed high levels of contaminants had affected drinking water for about 6,000 people in roughly 1,600 homes plus several neighboring businesses.

The base has recommended that people in the affected area use bottled water for drinking and cooking but deemed tap water safe for bathing and laundry.

In the meantime, a contractor is delivering drinking water to homes until a long-term filtration facility can be set up in April, a base spokesman said last week.

Similar contamination tied to the use of firefighting foam has been found in water supplies near dozens of military sites in Arizona, Colorado and other states, triggering hundreds of lawsuits.

Growing evidence that it is dangerous to be exposed to the chemicals found in the foam has prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider setting a maximum level for those chemicals in drinking water nationwide.

But they aren’t regulated now, meaning the base cannot be punished even though the EPA says the chemicals stay in the body for long periods and may cause adverse health effects.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has said it is working with the base, regulators and federal and local officials to ensure actions are taken to ensure healthy drinking water for residents.

A statement from Luke Air Force Base last month said testing had detected levels of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate above the EPA’s health advisory for how much should be consumed in drinking water over a person’s lifetime.

The so-called forever chemicals from a class known collectively as PFAS were found during tests of water from Valley Utilities Water Co.

The compounds are used in many industrial and consumer products and in foam used by commercial industries and the armed services to extinguish fuel fires.

The U.S. Air Force Academy in 2019 said unsafe levels of PFAS were found in groundwater at four sites on its Colorado Springs campus, south of Denver. The chemicals also have been discovered around the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

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