Quarterly UCAB meetings resume

January meeting cancelled by government shutdown

Henry Vega, a founding Unified Community Advisory Board member provided laughter and a lesson or two at the recent quarterly UCAB meeting attended by approximately 55 community members, University of Arizona students, and numerous officials from local and national agencies.

Henry Vega, founding member of the Unified Community Advisory Board, takes the floor near the conclusion of a meeting held on Wednesday April 17, 2019.

Vega interrupted Jeff Biggs, administrator of strategic initiatives for Tucson Water, during his presentation and asked, “If we have such an abundance of groundwater, why do our prices keep going up?” Laughter broke out.

Biggs shared the water utility’s plans to increase its capacity to remove perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, such as PFOS and PFOA, also sometimes referred to as PFAS, by installing twelve additional granular activated carbon vessels at the TARP plant near Irvington and I-19.

Fernando Molina, public information officer for the utility, said the project is early in the design phase and will be a year or two in the making.

PFCs, local reality, federal perspective

Three TARP remediation wells, located near 12th Avenue and Drexel Road, have been shut down for some time, according to Biggs. One of the wells had a PFC reading upwards of 168 parts per trillion.

Biggs equated one drop of water in 20 Olympic sized swimming pools to one part per trillion.

Remediation wells send water to the TARP plant not to residents’ homes.

Tucson Water’s “operational target” for water delivered to homes is 18 parts per trillion. The current Environmental Protection Agency health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA levels in drinking water is 70 parts per trillion.

Readings of water delivered to homes from the TARP plant have steadily come in under 4 parts per trillion in weekly testing, Biggs said.

A Harvard Study says, “Existing drinking water limits are based on less complete evidence that was available before 2008 and may be more than 100-fold too high.”

One of the study’s authors, Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote an editorial claiming effects of PFCs have been known or speculated as far back as 1978. The EPA, at the time, conducted an experiment exposing PFOA, a PFC, to monkeys and found effects on their immune systems.

The EPA released its PFAS action plan in February and at this time is not setting a maximum contaminant level, or MCL, leaving the health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion in place.

“Where we are finding it (PFCs) we are enforcing,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies in early April.

“We’re not stopping enforcement of cleaning up PFAS and PFOA where we find it while we work on (developing) additional tools.”

“At the same time our research office is doing more research on identifying where the chemicals are, identifying the types, I believe there’s over 2000 types of PFAS and PFOA substances.”

Wheeler affirmed the EPA could tackle the PFC issue even with President Trump’s budget proposal seeking to trim the agency’s budget by 30 percent and eliminate upwards of 1800 employees, when asked by subcommittee members.

TIAA Superfund site oral history project

Denise Moreno, a doctoral candidate in University of Arizona’s Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science and the School of Anthropology, updated UCAB meeting attendees on the progress of her oral history project on two Superfund sites, including the Tucson International Airport Area site.


Denise Moreno presents an update on her oral history project.

Moreno interviewed a range of stakeholders from each site and is following Smithsonian archival guidelines to preserve their stories. Once the project is complete the stories will be freely accessible at the website link above.

Vega made space for himself throughout the night. He concluded the meeting by thanking Moreno for all the of the work she has done for the community and noting how proud he is of her. Vega was one of the participants in Moreno’s project whose full interview will be available.

At various times during the meeting Vega talked about being ninth generation to the region and the importance of addressing climate change.

With urgency, at one point he exclaimed, “We have been the guinea pigs for years.” Many attendees, mostly community members, clapped and cheered him on.

The advisory board nominated and elected as members Victor Mercado, from Sunnyside Unified School District, and Bill Ellet, retiree from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Chairwoman Yolanda Herrera took a moment to recognize Ellet’s tenure at ADEQ.

Yolanda Herrera retained her position as board chair.