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News / Health / Clark County Health

‘Forever chemicals’ found in Camas water

City takes impacted Well 13 offline, seeks long-term solution

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: February 1, 2023, 3:39pm

The city of Camas has detected levels of harmful “forever chemicals” in the city’s drinking water system.

In a notice sent to Camas drinking water customers last month, the city said elevated levels of chemicals known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) had been found in a city well south of East First Avenue near Louis Bloch Park in downtown Camas.

The city’s other wells are not close to exceeding recommended PFAS levels, the city’s communications director added.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally and can build up in the bodies of humans and animals, including many freshwater fish found in lakes and rivers.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said high levels of PFAS have been linked to liver and kidney disease, a decreased vaccine response in children, fetal complications, an increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant people, high cholesterol, and an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

PFAS testing on the well, identified as Well 13, was conducted in April 2022 and again in December 2022. The tests showed readings of 25 parts per trillion and 17 parts per trillion — above the state’s action level of 15 parts per trillion — for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), a colorless chemical once used to make products resistant to stains, grease, soil and water, and one of five PFAS the state is monitoring.

PFOS has not been manufactured in the United States since the early 2000s but may still be used on products imported from other countries.

The Environmental Protection Agency said water contamination by PFOS is usually connected to releases from “manufacturing sites, industrial sites, fire/crash training areas, and industrial or municipal waste sites where products are disposed of or applied.”

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The city of Camas’ communications director, Bryan Rachal, said determining the exact source of the PFOS in Well 13 is “extremely hard to do” and noted that although some jurisdictions have found elevated PFAS levels in water sources near military bases or certain manufacturing sites, there is no obvious contamination source near the well site.

The city took Well 13 offline after discovering the elevated PFAS levels, though that step was not required by health officials, and city staff are researching possible long-term solutions.

“As far as the city is concerned, our water is safe for consumption right now,” Rachal said, adding that Camas leaders are taking steps to address the PFAS levels in the water.

While the city’s water supply is sufficient without Well 13 during the winter months, Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall and Camas Utilities Manager Rob Charles noted that the city may need to bring the impacted well back online during peak-usage days in the summer.

City staff are researching possible solutions, including some sort of filtration system that would help pull the chemicals from the Well 13 water flowing into the rest of the city’s drinking water system.

“Long-term options for filtration systems … are not cheap,” Wall said. “We just don’t yet know the scope (of the solution or its costs).”

The city is working with the Washington Department of Health to determine its next steps, Rachal added, and will continue to share updates and information with its water customers.

“We understand the concern, and if we need to turn the well back on, we want to be as transparent as possible,” Rachal said.

State health officials recommend that pregnant or breastfeeding water users and those who use tap water to mix with their infants’ formula use an alternative source for drinking or mixing infant formula or install a home water-treatment system such as reverse osmosis or an activated carbon filter certified to lower the levels of PFAS in water.

To learn more about these recommendations, visit doh.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2022-10/331-699.pdf.