Editorial: Navy on top of chemical

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station reacted impressively to its own discovery that the chemical 1,4-dioxane is moving through the ground and could be in privately-owned water wells in the area east of Highway 20 between NE 16th Avenue and Torpedo Road.

The Environmental Protection Agency counts the chemical as “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer in humans at high concentrations. While there’s no consensus on safe levels of 1,4-dioxane, the Navy, working with the Island County Health Department, notified the public in general last week and specifically those people who own property in the area.

At this point, it appears that 1,4-dioxane is present in groundwater at a low level. But authorities will test more wells to understand the extent and severity of the problem. Most of the affected landowners already are on the city water line, so their drinking water is safe. But if testing private wells indicates a possible health risk, the Navy will pay for connecting people to city water.

The pollution occurred in earlier times when it was standard procedure to dispose of chemicals in ground pits. The 1,4-dioxane was used in a degreasing solvent. Only recently, tests were developed to measure 1,4-dioxane.

The fact that the Navy recognized the danger, notified the public and is taking immediate action to deals with the problem is gratifying. It shows the system is working and that the Navy cares about its neighbors.

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