Tucson hopes federal infrastructure money will bulk up water cleanup projects

Published: Wednesday, May 4, 2022 - 12:02pm
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The city of Tucson wants some funding from the bipartisan infrastructure package passed by Congress to go toward cleaning up groundwater contaminants. 

Last fall, before the bill became a law, Sen. Mark Kelly said Arizona could be provided with more than $70 million each year for five years to mitigate PFAS contamination. 

PFAS are a group of chemicals found in consumer goods, like nonstick pans and waterproof jackets, and in industrial products, like a firefighting foam once used at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the Tucson airport. 

Exposure to PFAS is associated with health problems like cancer. John Kmiec is with Tucson Water.

"We had as many as 25 potable wells that have been turned Kmiec off because of varying concentrations of PFAS that have been detected over the last several years," he said. 

Kmiec says he's confident no drinking water in Tucson has PFAS contamination, potable wells found to have any trace of the chemical are shut off or restricted. The utility hopes to use infrastructure funding to launch new projects that would set up facilities to clean the water and restore them. 

Earlier this year, Tucson officials announced the Central Tucson PFAS Project, a $3.3 million pilot project the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to analyze and treat PFAS contamination in Tucson and neighboring Marana. Kmiec says Tucson Water provided a retired well found to have PFAS so the project could begin remediation.

The system uses a pair of ion-exchange treatment vessels to remove the chemical from groundwater, and city officials say data from the project will be used to create a full-scale operation later on. A system to prevent PFAS from entering additional wells is also underway.  

In a separate project, Kmiec's team has been treating PFAS in water part of the Tucson Airport Remediation Project, a superfund site set up to treat contamination from TCE — another chemical tied to an array health problems that was once used in jet cleaning liquid at the air base. He says the parties responsible for releasing the chemical should ultimately be responsible for its clean-up.

"This is not an issue caused by the city of Tucson or Tucson water," he said. "It is our expectation that, whether the Department of Defense or other responsible parties who used AFFF [firefighting foam] will eventually have to build large treatment plants to deal with the PFAS issue in the Tucson area." 

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