Residents learn about Navy well testing for fire chemicals

More than 80 people who live near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island arrived at Oak Harbor Elementary School Monday to learn about a chemical in firefighting foam that the Navy will be testing for in private wells.

The emerging contaminants are perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid.

On hand at to answer questions at the Navy-sponsored open house were experts from across the state and nation, including representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Health, Island County Public Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“Many people are alarmed,” said Al Williams, a resident and member of the Water Resources Advisory Committee.

Williams said the research he’s done on the chemicals seemed to suggest that the health hazards are inconclusive.

“The Navy is being extremely proactive,” said Tim Reisch, environmental engineer with Naval Facilities Engineering Command. The potentially hazardous chemicals are in firefighting foam used on base and the testing will determine if the chemicals migrated to off-base wells.

Reisch conceded that there is limited data on how groundwater flows from the Navy base to outlying parcels of land.

Water testing will begin Nov. 28, and include 170 wells and parcels, said Reisch. That testing will wrap up by Dec. 21.

Should testing find the concentrations of the firefighting chemicals exceeds 70-parts per trillion, a threshold set by the EPA, the Navy will be providing bottled water to residents as a short-term solution while a permanent one can be put in place, said Reisch.

More public meetings will be scheduled in January, he said.

“We know this is a community-level concern and we want to address this on a community level,” said Sean Hughes, a public affairs officer with Navy Region Northwest.“This is an evolving issue and we want to learn with everyone.”

Hughes added it has been a developing concern for the Navy since the EPA lowered the thresholds for the chemicals.

“This is why we are bringing the experts in, so that public concerns can be addressed by other government agencies and not just the Navy,” said Reisch.

“Ninety-eight percent of people already have (these chemicals) in their bodies, and only about 30 percent of that accounts from exposure to drinking water, while others come from exposure to items such as plastic bags, non-stick cookware, clothing, microwave popcorn and much more,” said Lauren Jenkins, director of Environmental Public Health Sciences.

“This is a chemical that is persistent,” she said. “It builds up in the body over time and does not break down easily.”

Hughes said he understands that testing of wells may be an imposition, but the Navy is encouraging anyone who would like to have a drinking water sample taken and tested to leave a voicemail at 360-396-1030 or email to

The Navy has also established a a website to keep the public updated as more information becomes available at

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