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West Valley water company first learned of Luke AFB contamination in 2016

Luke AFB water contamination
Posted at 7:08 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 22:00:12-05

GLENDALE, AZ — A representative from the Valley Water Utilities Company told the Arizona Corporation Commission Wednesday, chemical contamination from Luke Air Force Base was first detected in 2016. The level in one well exceeded the EPA’s safety limit of 70 parts per trillion limit. But Valley admitted it never considered doing its own follow-up testing, relying on the ADEQ and Luke AFB to do it instead.

“The cost of these types of things may not be recoverable from the Air Force Base in the future,” Valley Water’s Chief Financial Officer Bryan Thomas said. “Due to the high cost of the treatment equipment, we didn’t feel like our ratepayers could bare those costs for unregulated contaminants.”

More than 1,000 Valley Utilities water customers are receiving their drinking and cooking water from Luke Air Force Base. Luke started distributing the water after it confirmed a plume of the chemicals PFOS and PFOA had made its way into the water table around the base, polluting some private wells and now three Valley utility wells.

During a tense exchange that lasted nearly 10 minutes between Thomas and Arizona Corporation Commissioner Anna Tovar, Tovar asked “In 2016 you knew a well had over 70 parts per trillion and didn’t bring a resolution to it. Is that correct?” Thomas never answered the question and after 11 seconds Tovar continued. “Do you only provide safe water when someone else pays for the solution?” Thomas paused again before answering “No.”

Luke stopped using the chemicals in 2017 after the EPA placed a lifetime ban on using them a year earlier. But for more than 30 years PFOS AND PFOA were used as part of the base’s fire suppression efforts. The Air Force is taking responsibility and pledged to build the treatment facilities needed to remove the chemicals before it enters Valley Water’s distribution system.

“It will take a contractor 6-8 weeks to bring the system down here and test it to see if it’s working,” said Luke AFB’s Shimee Matthew.

Valley’s customers may get their tap water back by the end of April. In the meantime, the Corporation Commission is not done with Valley Water, promising more questions about why it let customers drink water it wasn’t sure was safe.

Residents in the impacted areas should have gotten a letter in the mail explaining how to get free bottled water dropped off, or instructions on a pickup location for free water.