Kalispell Drinking Water Well Exceeds New Federal ‘Forever Chemical’ Limits

Recent water source sampling revealed one of the city’s 11 drinking water wells in the municipality surpasses the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule that set limits on PFAS 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

Kalispell city officials this week announced that one of the municipality’s 11 drinking water wells contains amounts of “forever chemicals,” man-made compounds that are linked to serious health risks, that exceeds the new regulations the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established on April 10.

Following drinking water samples that were collected last month in Kalispell, four wells exhibited detectable levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), with the Grandview #2 source at the northern end of the city near Flathead Valley Community College containing two compounds surpassing the Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs).

Samples at Grandview #2 revealed 13 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOS and 11 ppt of PFHxS, which are two compounds that are part of the larger family of chemical substances known as PFAS. EPA has set the MCLs to 4 ppt for these compounds.

The contaminants were detected in the Grandview Well #1, Old School Well #1 and the Armory Well, but levels were below the limits.

PFAS have been used since the 1940s and are found in everyday products like Teflon cookware, water-resistant clothing, cosmetics and firefighting foam, according to the EPA. The contaminants are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because of their strong carbon fluorine bond, which can take more than 1,000 years to degrade.

Exposure to contaminants can cause metabolic disorders, decreased fertility in women, developmental delays in children, increased risk of cancer, and a decreased immune response.

EPA’s rule will go into effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and establishes a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR). The rule will apply to all community water systems and non-transient, non-community water systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Public water systems will be given five years to come into compliance with the signed NPDWR and officials have three years to complete initial testing. An additional two years will be given to implement treatment or switch to an uncontaminated source of drinking water if PFAS levels exceed one or more of the established MCL.

Kalispell staff on April 17 sent out a public notice to residents and public works officials will host a public workshop at the June 10 work session to provide information and updates.

Follow up sampling will be conducted at well sites this summer and staff will follow the new protocols and procedures.

Public Works Director Susie Turner said the city has submitted applications to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for contaminant and loan forgiveness grants for new projects that would help Kalispell meet the new standards. The dollars would replace the contaminated well or fund the treatment of the water source.

Turner estimates it will cost about $5 million to replace each well and while only the Grandview #2 well has detected contaminants that exceed the MCL, the city is also looking to replace the Armory Well.

“Grandview is the only well that seems to be above the MCL as part of the new rule, but the Armory also has detects, so we still plan on moving forward to replace that if the funding agencies agree to that,” Turner said.

Kalispell officials have been voluntarily sampling the water sources with DEQ as part of EPA’s unregulated contaminant monitoring rule (UCMR) process for the past decade. No PFAS had been detected until last year, according to Turner, and she said the sampling process is sensitive and involves out-of-state lab analysis.

Turner said the EPA rule gives the city guidance on how to proceed.

“We’ll start using that information as part of that compliance and now that we have direction, we are able to plan and coordinate and get the funding,” Turner said.

At this point, Hamilton is the only other municipality in Montana that contains detectable levels of PFAS in water sources, which Hamilton Public Works Director Donny Ramer confirmed to the Beacon.

According to the EPA announcement, the federal agency estimates between about 6% and 10% of the 66,000 public drinking water systems subject to this rule may have to take action to reduce PFAS and meet the new standards.

Residents can reduce exposure by installing a home or point-of-use filters, which can be installed underneath a sink. Boiling, freezing or letting water stand does not reduce PFAS levels.

City staff will continue updating its website with more information and they will host a public work session on June 10 to present updates, answer questions and listen to residents. Public members can attend in-person or via Zoom.

“If anybody has questions, we direct them to the city’s website and if they have further questions, we encourage them to give us a call or come down to city hall,” Turner said.