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News / Health / Clark County Health

Vancouver wells see a slight drop in PFAS

Reason for change and if trend will continue unknown, officials say

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 8, 2023, 6:10am

The city of Vancouver’s latest round of sampling showed the amount of “forever chemicals,” or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have fallen in some of its stations, but the reason why remains unclear.

In April, Vancouver found that three of its nine water stations — Water Stations 4, 14 and 15 — exceeded state action levels for the harmful compounds, also known as PFAS.

Recent tests indicate that Water Station 14 contained perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, one of five state-regulated PFAS compounds, at 18 parts per trillion, a slight decrease from its former 20 parts per trillion levels. Water Stations 4 and 15 both currently contain 15 parts per trillion, which is the Washington Department of Health’s threshold for that compound.

The reason for the reduced PFAS levels is unclear, and there is no guarantee the next round of sampling will reflect a similar trend.

“It’s kind of hard to predict what’s going to happen,” said Tyler Clary, Vancouver water engineering program manager.

Vancouver continues to use its water stations with PFAS contamination to meet summer water demands. Additional rounds of testing will take place later this summer.

The city of Vancouver is one of hundreds of Washington drinking water managers that could receive a portion of $10 billion from a tentative settlement with manufacturer 3M. The company developed firefighting foams in the 1950s with the U.S. Navy that were later shown to be the main source of PFAS contamination nationwide. Other companies, Chemours, DuPont and Corteva, agreed to pay roughly $1.2 billion for their respective roles in PFAS pollution.

Clary said it’s too early to provide a definitive answer whether Vancouver will benefit from the settlements.

“To the general public, $10 billion sounds like a lot of money, but when you spread it across potentially every water utility in the nation, that’s not very much,” he said.

Officials will continue to pilot test treatment methods, as well as work on their PFAS management plan. They are also exploring options of tapping into deeper aquifers in select locations, meaning there may be new wells in the future.

The city is currently seeking consultants to design a treatment system for Water Station 14, its site with the highest concentration of PFAS. The state awarded Vancouver nearly $12.7 million for the addition.

Staff will present a project scope to the Vancouver City Council for approval by the end of August, Clary said.

To check your public water source, visit Clark County’s online property information center. View an interactive map showing water wells containing PFAS at the Washington State Department of Health’s website.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer