Opinion: Navy needs to clean up ‘forever chemicals’


The number of Whidbey Island water wells with toxic PFAS chemicals in amounts now recognized as unsafe, has dramatically increased.

According to EPA, “Health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero.” The Lifetime Health Advisory for each has been lowered from 70 parts per trillion to less the one part per trillion—equivalent to one drop of water in twenty Olympic sized swimming pools.

EPA based its decision on the “best available peer-reviewed science” linking PFASs to child development disorders, cancers, immune system disorders and other harms.

PFASs still leak from Navy property to public and private wells in areas of Oak Harbor and Coupeville — and still run through Clover Valley Creek and Lake to Dugualla Bay.

Most samples taken by the Navy have been analyzed and reported in a way that missed PFASs at new advisory levels. Even so, 31 out of 100 test results from September 2021 to April 2022 exceed EPA’s advisory limit—doubling the Navy’s previous count for this period. The results of other sampling events since 2016 show similar increases.

The Navy’s first testing of over 200 private wells didn’t look for all PFASs known to be in water — and didn’t look for lower amounts that could easily have been found. Some letters conveying “non-detect’ results to residents asked that households “outside” the sample area be contacted “to alleviate any concern” regarding their drinking water.

The results of this “investigation” determined who could get safer water and where future sampling would be done. It was the small foundation upon which a bigger house could not be built and its planning was kept from the public.

Whidbey Naval Air Station and almost 400 other PFAS contaminated Defense Department sites should be held to the promise of providing clean water where the Lifetime Health Advisory is exceeded.

People whose water exceeds the advisory should be contacted in writing and supplied with clean water. All well owners in potentially contaminated areas should likewise be contacted and offered free testing to reveal the presence of any PFAS. The sampling of discharges to Clover Valley Creek and Lake should resume and results made public.

The Navy needs to contain and clean up PFASs at the Outlying Field and Ault Field. Otherwise, the threat to people and the environment by these “forever” toxic chemicals will forever continue.

Rick Abraham