JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The state is offering safe drinking water to households in a southeast Alaska town after a toxic substance was discovered in groundwater.
A dozen private wells in Gustavus qualified to receive shipped-in jugs of water from the state following the discovery of a chemical compound known as PFAS, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Wednesday.
The substance is found in foam used to suppress oil fires. It can seep into the ground and cause contamination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report earlier this year suggesting that PFAS might be more hazardous than previously thought. Exposure to the compound has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and the compound can affect development in children.
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The state Department of Transportation tested wells over the summer near the Gustavus airport.
Gustavus resident Kelly McLaughlin said she learned of the testing and persuaded the state to test her well. The results last month showed the well contained twice as much of the contaminant as the federal government advises for health.
“You don’t think the water you’ve been drinking and assume is safe is poison,” McLaughlin said. “That’s not a thought that crossed my mind ever. I wasn’t prepared for the results to be that bad.”
The state Department of Transportation plans to bring in an engineer to develop some long-term solutions.
Gustavus is a city of 550 on the north shore of Icy Passage. The city is 48 miles (77 kilometers) northwest of Juneau. It is surrounded by Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve on three sides.
“This was nobody’s fault. As far as I know, nobody knew how bad these chemicals were,” McLaughlin said. “Nobody knew how far they would travel. The DOT did not intentionally poison the people in Gustavus. But it happened.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gustavus is in southwest Alaska.
Information from: KTOO-FM, http://www.ktoo.org