It’s six days before Christmas when about 120 people gather in a conference room at the LaQuinta hotel. State of Alaska authorities called the event to announce that Dale Road-neighborhood water wells have been poisoned for years with cancer-causing chemicals. The experts qualified the cancer downside by using the words: “probable”, “maybe” and “possible” but continued by saying ‘you’ll never be able to pinpoint the cause of the cancer.”
The chemicals are called perfluorinated compounds and have been used since 1993 by airport fire fighters as a foaming agent. Their technical shorthand is C8. While the PowerPoint lingered on the image listing the diseases C8 is known to cause, people’s thoughts undoubtedly turned to those who had died in the previous 24 years.
Experts told the neighborhood members that fluoride-based chemicals are persistent. They’re as permanent as a tattoo; they never disappear. Crisis fatigue appeared to be the dominant feature in the audience’s reactions.
Were it not for several out-spoken residents, most people might have gulped, swallowed, whispered to a neighbor, ‘yep, that’s what I thought, they’re trying to kill us’. After numerous refrains of ‘we’re sorry’ from airport officials, some folks seemed on the verge of hitching up their belts and heading for the door.
The headshaking picked up pace when it was made painfully clear that federal regulations require the continued use of fluoride-based foam by airport fire fighters.
It causes cancer and you’re still using it? Yep!
Some people asked about de-icing spray – glycol – run-off, noting that it pollutes the soil. The airport PR staffer who doubles as its environmental officer immediately claimed all de-icing fluid is captured on the property and behind berms. Many in the audience responded with eye-rolls.
Perhaps the most anguished comment came from an Alaska Native woman who asked what was to become of her family’s organic garden. She listed various crops grown in the plot her family tended. There was fading pride in her voice for something that once was. She talked about catching and putting up salmon, leaving the question about fish safety implied. She looked tired, beaten.
At the point this observer left the meeting, the audience’s questions had turned to funding whole-house carbon filtration systems and blood testing for affected households. It remains to be seen if the state and feds are serious about mitigating the deadly pollution and treating its victims. Justice and reparation requires financial commitment, an outcome that often demands judicial intervention.
Douglas Yates, a 40-year resident, is a writer and photographer.
This report covers the Dec. 18 meeting hosted by the Dept. of Environmental Conservation, the Centers for Disease Control, the Fairbanks International Airport and environmental consultants, Shannon and Wilson. Regulatory and health experts addressed residents’ concerns about contamination of well water by perfluorinated compounds. According to the CDC, these toxins are linked to various forms of cancer and health ailments. To learn more, visit: