Activist urges board to ensure students have clean water

A Central Whidbey activist Monday night implored the Coupeville School District Board of Directors to take action regarding the schools’ use of contaminated town water.

Superintendent Steve King announced at the meeting he had been planning to bring back the district’s Healthy Youth Task Force, and he will be directing the group to look at the water issue.

Rick Abraham, who said he’s worked as a consultant in issues related to water contamination due to chemicals found in a common firefighting foam, spoke at the meeting. The foam, which is used by the Navy at Outlying Field Coupeville to extinguish petroleum-fed fires, contains perfluoroalkyls, or PFAS.

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 lifetime health advisory level for two types of the chemicals than is currently the advisory level set by the EPA.

The Town of Coupeville’s water has been found to contain chemicals at levels below the EPA standard but well above the proposed minimum risk level in the more recent study.

Abraham said Monday night he is especially concerned about the health risks in children who consume too much of the chemicals, as they are a vulnerable population.

The Navy has agreed to install a filter on Coupeville’s water system, but that project likely won’t be completed until the end of 2019.

“The question for the board is what you’re going to do to lower exposure between now and then,” Abraham said.

He urged them to consider letting parents know so they have the option of sending their children to school with water bottles.

In a letter to board members, Abraham also suggested adding water-filling stations with PFAS-free water at the schools.

King said the district had been waiting to see what would be done with the town’s water before creating an action plan.

Now he is putting out invitations to join the task force that will gather information and make recommendations on how to handle the issue.

The board also received multiple letters from Coupeville residents whose wells had tested positive for the chemicals.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to certain PFAS may affect growth, learning and behavior of infants and older children, interfere with the body’s natural hormones, affect the immune system, increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cancer.

“It’s not a political statement,” Abraham told the board. “You don’t have to point your finger at the Navy or anybody else. Just get the kids clean water.”