Read the full article by Hal Bernton and Manuel Villa (The Seattle Times)

“LAKEWOOD, Pierce County — The water pumped from the ground here was once considered pure enough to mix with a little chlorine and then pipe directly to homes.

Today, every gallon from two water district wells must first be flushed through six enormous tanks, each filled with 40,000 pounds of specially treated coal, to remove contaminants.

This pollution, known as ‘forever chemicals’ or PFAS, can increase health risks for certain cancers and other diseases when present in drinking water in minuscule concentrations measured in parts per trillion. Lakewood is one of more than a dozen Washington public water systems with detections above levels defined by the state to be suitable for long-term consumption — and widespread testing is just ramping up.

Massive filtration systems can remove the contamination, but at a steep cost. Lakewood, where PFAS entered the ground from firefighting foams used at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, spent $5.5 million on its system. Through the decades, operating costs and maintenance are forecast to soak up millions of more dollars.

Now, a massive legal battle is playing out across the country as more than 200 providers of public drinking water, including Lakewood, sue manufacturers, distributors and in some cases the Defense Department in federal court to determine who will pay the cleanup bills that will tally in the billions of dollars.

‘The frustration is … the cost. We didn’t create this problem. But we have to deal with this,’ said Marshall Meyer, engineering manager for Lakewood Water District.

Firefighting foams have emerged as a major source of PFAS contamination. They were first developed by Minnesota-based 3M in collaboration with the Navy. The lawsuits, including five filed by Washington public water systems, allege 3M failed to disclose internal studies dating back to the ’60s documenting the persistence of these chemicals in the environment, their toxicity and their widespread presence in human blood. In 1998, 3M finally shared over 1,200 studies with the Environmental Protection Agency, drawing a $1.5 million fine for failing to report them earlier.

In court and public comments, 3M had denied allegations that corporate officials sought to suppress information about the environmental and health risks of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances..

‘3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS — including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foams) — and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship,’ the company said in a written statement.

In Washington, public water systems with PFAS exceeding the state action levels range from Western Washington communities of Highline and Issaquah to the city of Airway Heights at the eastern edge of the state.” …