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University of Arizona receives grant to study chemicals posing a threat to groundwater

Published: Jul. 18, 2021 at 10:49 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona received a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Defense to further the study of chemicals that pose a threat to groundwater.

“PFAS are synthetic chemicals that have been widely used since the 1940s in consumer products across almost every aspect of our lives and also at military sites,” Bo Guo, a principal investigator said.

PFAS are found in firefighting foams, paints, food packaging, and even household cookware. These chemicals don’t break down and a significant amount has been found in soil.

“PFAS are migrating down over time. They pose a long-term threat for contaminating groundwater,” Guo explained. Groundwater, an important natural resource when the majority of the west is facing extreme drought.

“Water availability and quality has been critical issues for many areas like Arizona,” he said.

Not only do the chemicals threaten ground water, they also impact people’s health, even at low concentrations. Guo says there is direct evidence linking birth defects and different kinds of cancers to contact with PFAS.

In Southern Arizona, PFAS have been found at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the Tucson International Airport, and local wastewater treatment plants. In June, Tucson water shut down the Tucson airport remediation project, which impacted tens of thousands of customers, due to PFAS concerns.

“PFAS are in the soil, like a reservoir, they are migrating down. So, it’s very critical to understand and be able to predict how fast PFAS move in soil. When and what magnitude they will reach groundwater,” Guo said.

The majority of the federal grant will go toward computer models that will test soil on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to predict the movement of PFAS. This will then lead to a new tool that will assess the PFAS risk and mediation efforts. After researchers study the chemical threat, they will work toward prevention methods.

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