Linz Airport caused drinking water contamination in Leonding

Linz Airport caused drinking water contamination in Leonding
Firefighting foam used at the airport is the cause of the contamination.
Image: Volker Weihbold

“We have found the culprits, but no culprits,” said State Environment Councilor Stefan Kaineder today at the presentation of the results of the investigation into groundwater contamination in Leonding, Pasching and Hörsching. As reported, contamination by the industrial chemical “PFAS” was found in drinking water samples in 2022. were affected the Harterfeld I and II water cooperatives as well as domestic fountains in Staudach, Jetzing and Felling. They are all now connected to the public drinking water supply.

More on this: Leonding’s local council is concerned about contaminated drinking water

Mandatory fire drills

The main culprit has now been identified: the state’s experts assume that the groundwater contamination can be traced back to Linz Airport and the use of fire-fighting foams containing fluorine during exercises there. These were not prohibited at the time of the contamination and were even required for certain types of fires. Presumably, contaminated surface water was drained into the Staudacher Bach after firefighting exercises and thus found its way into the groundwater. The managing director of Linz Airport, Norbert Draskovits, assured that he wanted to work very closely with the responsible authorities and also communicate the renovation measures to be initiated transparently. “However, I would like to emphasize that the extinguishing agents identified as the cause of the contamination complied with legal requirements at all times,” says Draskovits.

Firefighting foam as the cause

The experts discovered the composition of the chemicals that pointed to the firefighting foam. This was detected in the region, in addition to the airport, at the Pasching volunteer fire department and on the premises of the waste disposal company AVE, where a major fire occurred in 2019. According to Kaineder, the firefighting foam is no longer used in Upper Austria. The location of the Pasching Volunteer Fire Department will continue to be monitored. Discussions are underway with AVE about how the contaminated area can be rehabilitated.

Health risks

The fact is that firefighting foam has been used for decades. According to Kaineder, it is impossible to say how long the groundwater has been contaminated. There was also no information at today’s press conference about the likelihood of damage to the health of the 400 people affected. The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) names mpossible health effects a reduced immune response to vaccinations, increased cholesterol levels, developmental toxic effects in the unborn child such as delayed development of the mammary gland and lower birth weight, as well as the development of kidney and testicular cancer in adults.

Further investigations will follow

According to Christoph Kolmer, head of water protection and state geology in the state, the results are “a milestone, but not the end of our work.” The next step is to examine the drinking water supply throughout the country. Kaineder points out that this is just the beginning of finding a way to deal with PFAS. The chemical is found in a variety of products, such as outdoor clothing, as waterproofing, in baking paper, in ski waxes or cosmetics. For drinking and ground water there is There are currently no legal limits in Austria. According to EU law, this must be specified for drinking water by 2026. The samples in the three communities exceeded this future limit. A limit value for groundwater is currently being negotiated at EU level.

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