Sharing information allows people to make choices


Issues of transparency and money are at the heart of controversy concerning Coupeville and WhidbeyHealth Medical Center’s water. Coupeville has known since December 2016 that at least four perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) leaking from the Navy’s Outlying Field have contaminated its water supply.

The Town and the Navy only told the public about two of them.

It was not until August 2017, in response to a Public Records Act request, that the Town’s tests for six PFCs were made public. Reports of December 2016 and March and June of 2017 revealed PFOA, PFHpA, PFBS and PFHxS to be in the Coupeville’s water — the same water used by the hospital.

The four PFCs found are among the six PFCs of concern identified in EPA’s Unregulated Contaminate Monitoring Rule.

On April 10, 2017, the hospital was asked to install a filtration system to keep PFCs out of its water.

The next day, Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes and hospital CEO Geri Forbes exchanged emails proposing wording to be used in rejecting the request. Forbes did not ask for and Hughes did not volunteer information about all the PFCs known to be in the water.

In a Sept. 19 Whidbey News-Times article, that hospital announced that a one-time and not-to-be-repeated test found the hospital’s water to be “just fine.”

CEO Geri Forbes even stated that she would drink the water.

Although Forbes and Hughes might feel comfortable drinking PFC contaminated water, expectant mothers and people suffering from ill health might decide differently — if they knew the truth about the contamination.

CEO Geri Forbes is not a patient, and the $279,000 plus $70,000 bonus she was paid allows her the affordable option of a private filtration system. It also gives her access to health care not everyone can afford.

The hospital, which doesn’t have a central filtration system, released the results of its “pre-filter” and “post-filter” testing. The results did not show the hospital’s water to be free of PFCs. Different laboratories with different detection limits were used in the comparison tests. The PFHxS found in the “pre-filter” sample would not have been detected in the “post-filter” analysis.

PFCs that the Navy and the Town publicly admit to have EPA identified advisory levels. The absence of such levels for other PFCs, like PFHxS, doesn’t mean they are safe to drink. It means the jury is still out until more research is conducted. PFHxS has been linked to reduced response to certain vaccinations, increased risk of infections and increased chance of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

It takes to nine years to get rid of half the amount accumulated in the body. Blood tests on exposed populations have found PFHsX levels in children to be higher than in adults.

Keeping people in the dark about contaminants in their water doesn’t protect them.

It deprives them of the opportunity to reduce exposures. It also shields the Navy from public pressure to cleanup and pay for the pollution problem it has caused.

Rick Abraham


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