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N4T Investigators: Contamination Concerns

TUCSON (KVOA) - Last month, the city shut down a water treatment plant off of Interstate-19 and Irvington. 

More than 60,000 people were using it. Now they are getting clean water from the Colorado River instead. 

"Tucson did not cause the pollution but we are being left to deal with it,” Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said at a press conference regarding the water treatment plant in June. 

"We're not going to be able to clean up the water before it gets to the consumer so we have to shut the plant down. We also shut down 19 wells,” Tucson City Councilman, Steve Kozachik told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. 

The contamination is called PFAS and it can be harmful. Kozachik said it has been causing plumes of groundwater pollution near Davis-Monthan Air Force base and the Arizona Air National Guard near the airport.  

 "The last time our fire department actually had to use AFFF was in response to a real-world emergency in the early 2000s,” Capt. Elias Small of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base told city leaders during a July meeting. 

"The Department of Defense has been using a firefighting foam called AFFF,” Kozachik told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. "The Department of Defense and the Air National Gaurd are both culpable for the water contamination in the Tucson base."

Contamination levels appear to be at least 18,000 percent above the EPA's standard. 

"Ratepayers should not be footing the bill for any part of this. Tucson Water has spent several millions of dollars on this already,” Kozachik said at the July meeting. 

He said the Department of Defense and Air National Guard has not committed to helping pay for the clean-up.  While Tucson Water and its ratepayers have been left to foot the bill, which will continue to add to the more than $20-million, they've already spent in the past year and a half. 

The state's been looking into contamination concerns since last year. 

 "The darker color represents the extent of groundwater that exceeds that EPA health advisory level,” Matt Narter with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality told city leaders during a July meeting. 

The state has committed to giving Tucson $2-million just to push the water into the Santa Cruz River so it does not end up in your drinking water. 

Last week city leaders met with federal and state agencies. 

During the meeting, Capt. Lacey Perry the Morris Air National Guard Chief of Public Affairs said it will, "Properly investigate any health risk that may be associated with PFAS associated with our mission and activities." 

During the meeting, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense said it plans to monitor wells and sample soil for contamination through next year. A report of its findings is expected to be done in 2024. 

What's being done now?  

"We will ask everybody we can that has a well for drinking for permission to sample it,” George Walters with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center said during the July meeting.  

Walters said if contamination exceeds the EPA's standard, "The Air Force will take the action to make sure they're getting clean water." 

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line 520-955-4444.

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Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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