Is it better to know or is ignorance bliss? 

According to Lars Seifert with Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services: “It’s good for people to be aware of what they are eating, drinking, and what they’re exposed to. … It gives people the power to make choices and reduce their risk if they are concerned.”

According to Ron Fink, who went on a tirade about the Environmental Protection Agency’s per- and polyflouroalkyl (PFAS) requirements for drinking water in his April 6 Sun column: “You have to eat a pound of dirt before you die … and not worry about this latest government concern.” 

The forever chemicals known as PFAS are hanging out in soil and groundwater throughout the state—including at both the SLO County and Santa Maria airports—due to decades of mandated firefighting trainings in which a substance with an extremely odd name was used: aqueous film forming foam. That fluffy stuff contained lots of different PFAS chemicals, and now we’re all stuck with them. 

Long-term human exposure to PFAS can impact thyroid function, increase cancer risk, and decrease vaccine response in children. 

But as Fink put it: Don’t worry about it! The government is still in the process of figuring out just how dangerous these chemicals are. Plus he spent 20 years as a military firefighter. 

“I was frequently covered in [firefighting foam] during firefighting operations,” he said. “I drank the water, and once again, I have suffered no health issues.” 

You know what they say about single-person case studies of yourself! That’s the stuff that science depends on—not. 

Finky, baby, you might want to get checked for cancer. A number of firefighters who worked with the same fluffy stuff in places like Georgia are concerned that their cases of thyroid and prostate cancer might be tied to it. 

But, like Seifert said, you can make that decision for yourself. There is a small plume of low-level PFAS in the groundwater beneath the Santa Maria Public Airport, as well as low levels in the soil around its runway. So, you can, in fact, eat a pound of that dirt before you die, if you wish—although you might have to check with the airport first. 

Seifert and others seem unconcerned about the levels that exist there, but so far, the investigation is still ongoing and without conclusion. Unsurprisingly, there’s already a fight brewing over just who is going to have to pay for cleanup if it’s needed. 

The chemicals started being used decades ago, that firefighting foam training was a military standard, and the airport was initially a military facility. But Santa Barbara County and the city of Santa Maria both owned and operated it in the 1960s before the Santa Maria Public Airport District formed and took over in 1964. 

Strangely, the airport’s current general manager, Martin Pehl, left a voicemail for the Sun saying the district only owned the property for four years from 1964 to 1968. I’m so confused.

“We had no knowledge of any discharge having occurred, the water board didn’t even exist, laws governing those kinds of discharges didn’t exist,” he said. 

We did a lot of stupid things before we knew they were bad for us, including eating dirt as toddlers.

The Canary is more into eating worms. Send chemical-free, organic worms to [email protected].

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