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Airport firefighters sick; boss covered up PFAS contamination

By Troy Torres

(Tumon, Guam) Some airport firefighters are sick from exposure to chemical contamination that their big boss tried to cover up. This is according to a whistleblower at the Guam airport authority, who is accusing executive manager Tom Ada of forcing airport firefighters to lie to investigators.

Tom Ada

The whistleblower, who was threatened by Mr. Ada with adverse action for telling the truth about the pouring of a flame retardant used on airplanes known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) down an airport drain, spoke with Kandit News Group in an exclusive interview.

“Tom Ada brought a container and told us to fill it with water and dump it down the drain for a staged photo that would reach the media,” the whistleblower told us. “He did this because he knew the media had gotten a hold of the story already and he wanted all of us - and most of the crew was fire recruits at the time - to have this same story that we poured water from this container down the drain.”

“In actuality,” he continued, “when Ray Santos had us pour the chemicals, it was out of the real barrels and it wasn’t even near the drain.” Mr. Santos is the assistant fire chief for the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) Unit.

The whistleblower, who asked that his or her identity be kept confidential, described that the firefighters would tip the heavy barrels over where they were stored, and the chemical would flow to the drain. The distance from the storage area to the drain was described at about 15 meters.

PFAS is toxic to human health, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans,” according to the US EPA. Their website lists findings that link PFAS contamination to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.

“The firefighters now are showing symptoms from their exposure to the chemicals,” the whistleblower said. “Berman is the lawyer,” the whistleblower told us, referring to the law offices of Berman, O’Connor and Mann.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero called the Legislature into special session earlier this year to authorize and appropriate the funding to the Attorney General to pursue class action litigation against the manufacturers of PFAS for contamination of Guam’s water. Attorney General Leevin Camacho has since hired a team of six law firms specializing in environmental suits.

Kandit asked Mr. Ada in an email copied to his public information officer, Rolenda Faasuamalie whether Mr. Santos ordered the dumping of chemicals at the airport and whether he had knowledge of the dumping. We asked him if he brought barrels to the firefighters and instructed them to fill up and spill water from the barrels for a staged photo op to deceive the public and investigators. We also asked him whether he and Mr. Santos intimidated the firefighters and recruits to lie to investigators.

“When we had to answer questions in front of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), guess who was right there in the room watching each of us answer the questions,” the whistleblower posed. “Tom Ada and Ray Santos.”

“They fabricated this story and wanted all of us to go along with it,” the whistleblower said. “We didn’t even know at the time that what we were doing wasn’t right, because it was our superior telling us to do it. All of a sudden the executive manager is wheeling barrels to us and telling us what to say and then we see it in the news.”

The whistleblower said that Mr. Ada even tried to force the whistleblower to recant the whistleblower’s incident report. “He called me into his office and I thought he was going to commend me for doing my job like I was told to do, but then he slid me this piece of paper saying there’s an adverse action against me. I lawyered up right away and he took back everything. He wanted me to change what I wrote and I won’t do that.”

Mr. Ada has not answered our questions. Adelup officials, who are aware of the inquiry, told Kandit tonight that they are trying to get answers from the airport. As of press time, no such answers have come.

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