The Navy’s agreement to do something about its contamination of Coupeville’s water is long overdue. However, the decision the Navy and town are heralding will only partially address the problem.
Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) leaking from the Navy’s Outlying Field were found in Coupeville’s water more than a year ago and it could be another year or more before a planned filter system is installed. Until then, Coupeville homes, schools and the hospital will continue to receive water containing PFASs that exceed the health guidelines of several states.
Even after the filter is installed, the Navy says PFASs will not be entirely removed. When asked for details about reduction goals and monitoring, the Navy replied that it was “exploring options” and “has no specifics to share.”
Coupeville’s announcement of the Navy’s plan came a week after its mayor received test results showing PFAS contamination of the town’s Fort Casey wells a mile from the OLF — in addition to the Keystone well located next to the OLF. The contamination of the Fort Casey wells, discovered back in October 2017, was not mentioned in the mayor’s or Navy’s news statements.
In addition to PFOA and PFBS, the Navy found PFHxS, PFHxA and PFHpA in the wells. These chemicals have been found in the aquifer beneath the OLF and in private wells near the OLF. PFHxS, which studies have linked to childhood developmental problems, often turns up at levels higher than PFOA and stays in the body longer.
The decision to continue using the Keystone supply well instead of drilling a new one in an uncontaminated area has not been explained. Coupeville had considered closing the contaminated well and planned to drill a new one in 2020. The town had inquired about state funding and asked Island County if it might sell the town needed land.
Both the town and the Navy wanted PFASs out of the news. Both have withheld information about the extent of the contamination — by use of detection and limits that allowed PFASs to go undetected in water samples — and by withholding the results of testing that found PFASs. Coupeville knew from its own testing that PFHxS, PFHxA, PFHpA were in the town’s water for almost a year before telling the public. Coupeville’s mayor characterized expressions of concern about the contamination as “fear mongering.”
The Navy refused to release the results of its October 2017 testing of Coupeville’s water to the general public— even though Coupeville’s water is used by public schools and the hospital.
The results for Fort Casey wells are preliminary and the PFAS amounts are low. Still, they point to a spreading plume of contamination from the OLF where the highest levels of PFASs have been found. Unprotected public wells and private wells are in its path.
Filtering of Coupeville’s water will do nothing to stop PFASs in the aquifer from migrating beyond the OLF’s boundaries. If there is cause to celebrate, it should be when people finally get to drink PFAS-free water.