Opinion: More testing is needed to gauge water contamination on Whidbey

News this week that Navy tests showed two wells in Central Whidbey are contaminated with a potentially harmful chemical should spur more testing.

One of the residents with the contaminated well said the amount of the chemical, which was used in firefighting foam, was six times beyond the advisory level. Navy officials quickly supplied his family with bottled water.

So far, the Navy has received results from just 19 wells. A total of 170 wells are in the target area.

Much more testing is needed. Unfortunately, well owners have been slow to respond to Navy requests for permission to test for the scary-sounding chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate.

The EPA set a lifetime advisory level on the two compounds earlier this year. A specialized test is necessary to detect the “emerging contaminants.”

The request letters went out to the owners of property within a mile radius of sites on Naval Air Station’s Ault Field base and Outlying Field Coupeville.

Testing done by the Town of Coupeville found the presence of one of the compounds in a well closest to OLF Coupeville. The amount was below the advisory level, but worrisome nonetheless.

While the health effects of the chemicals aren’t conclusive, there’s enough evidence of harm to spur the EPA to set an advisory level and for the Navy to conduct proactive testing on bases across the nation.

Residents can’t afford to take a head-in-the-sand approach to the issue. The Navy is doing the testing for free and supplying bottled water to anyone whose well tests beyond the advisory level.

More test results also means that experts can get a better idea of how big the problem might be and how water flows underground. The information may help determine if the Navy or another source is responsible for the contamination.

In addition, the Navy should consider broadening its testing to areas beyond the one-mile radius. While contamination that far out may be unlikely, it would provide a lot of people with peace of mind.