Coupeville school district installs water coolers

On Monday, Coupeville students will have access to filtered water from coolers placed around their schools, but there are differences of opinion as to whether it has anything to do with chemicals in the water.

Coupeville Superintendent Steve King said student hydration and their apparent avoidance of the tap water are the reasons for the change. He said students often say they don’t like the taste of what comes from the tap.

However, a local activist who’s campaigned for clean water at the schools said he believes differently.

“It’s disingenuous to say that bringing in the water has nothing to do with the Navy’s contamination of the water,” said Rick Abraham.

During a Jan. 28 meeting, Abraham urged school board members to provide water that doesn’t contain chemicals called perfluoroalkyls, or PFAS.

Testing showed Coupeville’s water contains the chemicals, found in firefighting foam use by the Navy, at levels lower than the lifetime advisory level set by the EPA.

However, a recent study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, recommends a much lower level for two types of PFAS.

Coupeville’s water contains those chemicals at rates above the levels recommended by the newer study.

The Navy broke ground last week on a new water treatment plant for the town that will remove the chemicals.

The facility is expected to be online in June.

According to the EPA, studies indicate that ingestion of this family of chemicals can have negative reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney and immunological effects.

King said student health was at the center of the district’s decision, finalized Feb. 27, but concerns weren’t related to the water quality.

“We have no official notification from Island County or the state that the water is a health concern,” King said in an email.

However, possible water concerns is one focus of a new Healthy Youth Task Force King recently convened.

The water cooler idea will be discussed to keep task force members informed, King said.

Though water is being brought into the schools, Abraham said the district is failing to notify families properly of the potential issues with the tap water. He said parents and guardians should be given enough information to make a decision to send students to school with a water bottle and to tell them to use the water coolers instead of the drinking fountains.

“It’s beyond me why the schools would not want to give parents that information and that choice,” Abraham said.

Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes said she’d had discussions with King about the water coolers before Abraham approached the school board.

“This has nothing to do with PFAS,” Hughes said. “(It’s) bad fear-mongering information.”

Coupeville residents Bridgit Sims and Stephen Swanson also sent letters to the school district expressing concerns over contamination.

Abraham claims conversations with King gave him the impression that the district is wary of acknowledging the contamination.

“It is political because the water was contaminated by the Navy and delivered by the town.”

“They ought to be proud that they are doing a good thing,” he said later, “and not trying to hide it to keep from embarrassing someone.”

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