A chemical found in three island water wells is toxic, despite what the Guam Waterworks Authority said, according to Eric Palacios, the special assistant to the governor for education and environment and natural resources.
“Without raising false claims, I do agree with U.S. EPA that (the chemical) is toxic and there are certain health effects, especially at the level it was detected,” Palacios said.
Three of the island’s water wells, which provide residents with drinking water, tested above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level for a contaminant that is used to make items waterproof and to extinguish fires that involve flammable liquids.
Palacios, who is a former administrator of the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, said once the agency confirmed the contamination, “the shutting down of the wells became necessary.”
The wells were shut off on Aug. 10 — the day Pacific Daily News ran an article on the contamination, he said.
According to U.S. EPA, the chemical, when present in high levels, has been linked to developmental defects in fetuses and breast-fed infants. Other health problems linked to PFOS exposure include cancer, liver and thyroid disease and problems with the immune system.
The levels of PFOS detected at five sampling sites, or wells, were measured at 41 to 110 parts per trillion. An EPA health advisory is required for levels above 70 parts per trillion. Three of the five wells tested exceeded that mark, according to U.S. EPA’s San Francisco Region 9 Drinking Water Management Section.
Guam Waterworks Authority Assistant General Manager Paul Kemp on Aug. 10 said the chemical isn’t toxic and is found in containers of bottled water. The white lining on the inside of a bottle cap, he said, is coated with the chemical.
He said PFOS has been around since the '50s and scientists have not found any link to adverse health effects.
“In a nutshell, Kemp is mistaken,” Palacios said. “PFOS has a certain level of toxicity — maybe not at the level of other toxic substances, but there is a level of toxicity.”
Kemp said notices had been sent out to all customers receiving water from the contaminated wells.
Guam EPA has been working with Guam DOE over the last few days to ensure water at schools are free of the chemical by the time the school year starts.
Although the wells were shut down, Palacios said, there could be residual contamination in the pipes, as well as in the schools' back-up water tanks.
Based on the water distribution system, public schools that had been receiving water from the contaminated wells include Tiyan High School, Guahan Academy Charter School, Carbullido Elementary School, J.Q. San Miguel Elementary School as well as schools in Hagåtña and Agana Heights.
“We’re working with GDOE schools to make sure they flush their systems,” he said.
Schools have been flushing their systems, starting on Saturday.
As for how long the chemical has been in the water, Palacios said, it’s hard to say because the contaminant maintains its characteristics over time, unlike materials that degrade over time and can be measured based on the levels of degradation.
Guam Waterworks Authority and Guam EPA have not yet identified the source of the contamination at these wells.
However, Palacios said, Guam EPA is working to ensure the contamination is mitigated and eliminated.
Palacios is a Republican senatorial candidate in this month's Primary Election