In 1970, innumerable gallons of toxic, chemical-laden firefighting foam started contaminating the grounds of Sioux Falls Regional Airport. Almost 50 years later, the city is now dealing with the consequences.
Today, 19 municipal wells sit dormant. Chemicals linked to cancer and other health maladies have contaminated 15 of those wells, including 10 with concentrations above what the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe. Foam use by the South Dakota Air National Guard and Sioux Falls Fire Department is the cause.
As city officials grapple with the well shutdowns — representing 28 percent of the city’s water production from the Big Sioux aquifer — it may soon face an even larger challenge when citizens begin to learn how long their drinking water was contaminated before it was detected and the wells taken offline. As that question looms, the contamination’s scope remains unclear.
“We really haven’t determined the extent of release yet,” said Capt. Jessica Bak, a public affairs officer with the Air Guard’s 114th Fighter Wing at the airport.