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Summer of the Dry Oar

Facebook/Farmington River Tubing

The kayaks have leaned up against the side of the house since I took them out of the garage in May. We didn’t rent stand-up paddleboards at all this year. All of this is extremely unfortunate because my wife and I have taken to the water in recent years as our sons have gotten older.

We’re a short drive from a calm section of the Farmington River where we can paddle leisurely and enjoy the weather and scenery, maybe even dip into the cold shallow parts on hot days. There’s a spot to rent the paddleboards and a well-maintained launch point for the kayaks. Problem is, back in June there was an immense chemical spill into the river from a nasty foam that’s highly effective in fighting fires. It’s PFAS pollution, a broad category of man-made chemicals linked to different types of cancer, obesity, immune system issues and other maladies and found, in varying levels, in things we use every day.

But the amount that seeped into the Farmington River in late spring was alarming, so much so that a health warning was issued to avoid eating fish from the river, which is a world-renowned fly-fishing spot, too. People along the river noticed clumps of this foam building along the shore on parts of the river. A week or so after the spill, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said it was ok to boat in the river and swim in it, just don’t ingest any water accidentally and, by the way, keep avoiding the fish. Nothing about that statement engendered any confidence in me, so we stayed away all summer. There was still too much unknown. (Note, there's a limit on the number of free articles you can access through the Hartford Courant.)

PFAS chemicals are considered “forever chemicals,” remaining present for as long as the name implies. Was there always some level of PFAS in the river? I don’t know. But now knowing how high the levels were in June makes me think that they’re still elevated to an abnormal degree, especially since we finally heard that tests on fish from the river are still too high.

Anybody feel like swimming or boating in water when you hear about the fish and are told you should avoid accidentally ingesting the water? I remember too many times when I’ve jumped in or been splashed and swallowed some water. Adding a veil of expressed toxic danger certainly mutes the fun of a day on the river.

Of course, there are multiple rivers up here we can enjoy. But there’s something special about the Farmington River. We’ve spent a lot of time on that water and created a lot of memories. It’s been a special place in the summertime when we have a little bit of free time during a weekday afternoon. It’s so easy to tie on the kayaks and cruise up Route 4 through a picturesque part of the state and connect with the outdoors in a way we all enjoy.

Now, I feel the Farmington River, which a month before the spill had been designated a Wild and Scenic River based on “geology, water quality, biological diversity, cultural landscape and recreation,” is a ruined resource. At the very least, it’s remarkably damaged, and that’s an environmental tragedy felt acutely by many people.

I’m impatient and haven’t been pleased with how slowly information has come out about the spill and its effects. Neither have a lot of other people. We just now heard about the official fish report, four months after the spill. And more PFAS pollution could be entering the water.

Economically, how has all this affected local businesses? It’s easy to find online forums and website discussing the attributes of the river, best strategies, places to eat and sleep. The Farmington River is a well-known waterway.

I’ll doubt the overall water quality until some overwhelming science convinces me otherwise.

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