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Five years after discovery of contamination in water, analysis of Airway Heights residents finds elevated PFAS levels

In 2017 an analysis found PFAS chemicals in Airway Heights' water supply. Since then it has used a temporary water source from the city of Spokane, which is safe to drink.

A recently-published analysis of samples taken from Airway Heights residents reported levels of harmful chemicals known as PFAS at levels more than 50 times above the national average.

In 2017, the city of Airway Heights discovered its water supply had been contaminated by chemicals from firefighting foam used at nearby Fairchild Airforce Base. Those chemicals, known as PFAS, can stay in the human body for years and are linked to health complications. The same year, Airway Heights started piping in water from Spokane.

The recently published study from the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, a public health agency under the CDC, analyzed blood and urine samples, and surveys from more than 330 Airway Heights residents, including some children.

PFAS was found in 89% of people who participated. The study linked the PFAS levels to past water contaminated. Researchers also tested the city’s current, temporary water supply, and found it is safe.

Airway Heights city manager Albert Tripp says the study shows the city was right to find a temporary alternate water source.

“I think it also for us, it also reaffirms that the decision we made back in 2017 to discontinue the use of contaminated wells and switch to a different supply was the right decision," he said.

Tripp says the city is working to build a new, safe water supply. It has received several state grants, but is still awaiting federal funding.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.