Kalispell Officials Begin PFAS Sampling

After “forever chemicals” were detected in two of the city’s 11 drinking water wells last year, city staff has begun sampling more wells and have applied for grants to replace water sources and mitigate contaminants

By Maggie Dresser
A subdivision meets farmland off of Three Mile Drive on the westside of Kalispell on Sept. 22, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

City officials on March 29 began sampling all of Kalispell’s drinking water wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – more commonly known as “forever chemicals” – after the emerging contaminants were recently discovered in two of the city’s 11 well sites, according to a news release.

Results will be available in approximately two months and will be updated on the city’s website.

Public Works Director Susie Turner has submitted applications to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for emerging contaminate and loan forgiveness grants for new projects to help Kalispell meet proposed PFAS drinking water contaminant standards. New source wells could potentially replace the contaminated wells and be used to blend water and reduce PFAS concentration introduction into the water system.

Last year, PFAS were detected in the Armory well, where officials measured 3.6 parts per trillion (ppt) at the southern end of the city, as well as the Grandview well at the northern end, where samples revealed 6.6 ppt.

PFAS are considered “emerging contaminants” as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to research the chemicals and the risks associated with exposure. Federal regulators are also working to establish a proposed Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). Although not yet formally adopted, the MCL proposal is set at 4 ppt and the agency is working to create protocol for things like frequency and duration of chemical sampling in wells.

As part of EPA’s unregulated contaminant monitoring rule (UCMR) process, agencies asked Kalispell to participate in sampling in 2014 and 2015. At that point, no PFAS were detected.

In 2022, Kalispell participated in a voluntary testing program with DEQ when five city wells were sampled. The Armory well, which produces 26% of the city’s lower zone’s combined water sources, tested positive in March with 2.6 ppt and was tested again in June when a reading of 3.3 ppt was detected. The Grandview well, which produces 38% of the upper zone’s combined water sources, tested positive for the first time in July 2023 when 6.6 ppt was present.

Kalispell officials plan to perform more samples in August as city staff work to monitor the situation.

The public is encouraged to sign up for website update notifications.

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