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Officials: Swan Lake contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’


Officials with local government agencies on Friday held a press conference to discuss the findings of PFAS found in lake water at Swan Lake. 

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been used for decades and are found in all kinds of products like nonstick pans and cosmetics. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they are slow to break down in the environment.

Officials said the water at Swan Lake is not a drinking water source, and the lake’s water does not get used at the moment. The press conference was live streamed on Facebook and was recorded from other local news organizations as well as attended by some concerned residents. 

“Testing for them is improving so we’re able to now understand that the prevalence of these PFAS compounds are greater than what we first thought,” said Dwayne Smith, engineer for Washoe County. “We don’t know exactly about the health risks associated with PFAS compounds but we are very concerned, so we want to share our information with you. 

“Please, as you come out and enjoy areas like Swan Lake we just ask you to take caution not to recreate in Swan Lake – at least not until we get more information and guidance from our health district and our state of Nevada partners.”

Wastewater treatment facility in Lemmon Valley.
Lemmon Valley Water Reclamation Facility. Image: Mark Hernandez / This Is Reno.

Truckee Meadows Water Authority officials said drinking water in the Reno area remains safe.

“The higher levels in Swan Lake indicate that the PFAS came from another source,” TMWA noted in a press statement. “To investigate further, [the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection] is working with a contractor to conduct various samplings at the lake and other targeted areas across Nevada. 

“These samples, as well as recent samples taken by the City of Reno, Washoe County and TMWA, will keep residents better informed and help direct future actions at the lake. With this data, NDEP can also better collaborate with public water systems across Nevada, leveraging federal and state funding to help address PFAS concerns.”

City and county officials said any information that is discovered would be shared with the public as quickly as possible. Relevant information on drinking water can be found at TMWA’s Smart About Water website.   

There is no federal limit on PFAS in drinking or surface water. This has caused PFAS to be found in all areas around the globe, such as the soil, oceans and in humans.

“Multiple health effects associated with PFAS exposure have been identified and are supported by different scientific studies,” the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reports. “Because there are many types of PFAS chemicals, which often occur in complex mixtures and in various everyday products, researchers face challenges in studying them. More research is needed to fully understand all sources of exposure, and if and how they may cause health problems.”

During the press conference, some residents voiced their concerns about the discovery of the chemicals and other water issues related to the Lemmon Valley area. 

That resulted in a heated exchange between the two groups. Officials tried to answer the questions they could and keep the discussion on the PFAS rather than other water problems.

The discovery of PFAS in Swan Lake came from a presentation that was recently brought to the attention of local agencies. The study, which took place in August, tested the effluent in Swan Lake and found trace amounts of the PFAS that are lower than the limit in other states that have a threshold for the chemicals in water. 

PFAS is found in treated effluent around the country.

Nevada, and the majority of other states, does not have a limit on PFAS. The federal Environmental Protection Agency indicated last month that it will be developing standards for PFAS by the end of this year.

According to the Scientific American magazine, “Scientists have found links between a number of the chemicals and many health concerns—including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, developmental toxicity, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced preeclampsia and hypertension, and immune dysfunction.”

Swan Lake image: Mark Hernandez / This Is Reno.
Swan Lake image: Mark Hernandez / This Is Reno.
Mark Hernandez
Mark Hernandez
Mark was born in Mexico, grew up in Carson City, and has recently returned to Reno to continue to explore and get to know the city again. He got his journalism degree in 2018 and wants to continue learning photography for both business and pleasure. Languages and history are topics he likes to discuss as well as deplete any coffee reservoirs in close proximity.