Letter: Chemicals in town water unacceptable situation


It’s a sad fact that Coupeville residents and an untold number of private well owners still drink water contaminated with the Navy’s (PFAS) chemicals. The levels of some PFASs are many times higher than the new minimum risk levels proposed by the U.S. Department of Health’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease and Registry (ATSDR).

PFASs accumulate and stay in our bodies for years. They’ve been linked to several types of cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems. According to ATSDR, people drinking water with more than 7 parts per trillion of PFOA have an “appreciable risk” of adverse health effects.

Coupeville’s water contains PFOA up to 38 parts per trillion – more than five times ATSDR’s minimum risk level. Levels in some private wells are even higher. PFOA is one of five PFASs found in our aquifer.

The Navy and Island County officials claim that drinking water with PFOA below EPA’s health advisory levels of up to 70 parts per trillion is safe. EPA’s advisory levels have long been criticized for not being protective. A number of states, and now ATSDR, have more protective advisories.

The Navy has been giving bottled water to families whose water has over 70 ppt of PFOA, but doing nothing for families with lesser amounts – even if ATSDR’s minimum risk levels are exceeded.

The Trump administration’s attempt to block ATSDR’s report was shameful, but no more so than Navy and Coupeville’s efforts to conceal the extent of contamination.

The Navy, with Island County Health’s blessing, did not test the community’s water for all of the PFASs known to contaminate the aquifer. The Navy and Coupeville didn’t use the most sensitive detection limits in their testing — allowing for some PFASs to go undetected.

Coupeville conducted its own testing but kept the complete results, including the finding of PFHXS and PFHPA, from its customers for almost a year. PFHXS has been linked to childhood developmental problems and stays in the body even longer than PFOA.

The Navy and public officials have been more concerned with keeping PFASs out of the news than out of our water. Concerns about health effects voiced by citizens were characterized as “fear mongering” by Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes and “blowing hot air” by Health Board Member Grethe Cammermeyer. Such Trump-style attempts to bully citizens into silence have no more place in government than PFASs do in our water.

The Navy admits all PFASs won’t be removed from Coupeville’s water after a PFAS filter is installed, supposedly in 2019 – more than two years after discovery of the contamination. The Navy and Coupeville still refuse to identify the detection limits to be used for post-filter monitoring.

If lower levels aren’t detected, people will be led to believe they are drinking PFAS-free water.

Citizens kept in the dark can’t speak out – or act to protect themselves. Coupeville’s water customers, including schools attended by 2,000 children, will have PFAS contaminated water exceeding ATSDR’s minimum risk level. PFASs still leaking from Navy property will continue to threaten more water supplies.

Richard Abraham


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