Sound Off: Water contamination sources extend beyond fire department

The finding of PFAS in yet another community’s drinking water is concerning, but more so to have a finger pointed at Central Whidbey’s Fire and Rescue.

Testing by State Health Department found PFAS in the Harrington Lagoon Community’s water far above State Action Levels. Its supply well is located east of the Navy’s Outlying Field (OLF) where “forever” chemicals still migrate to distant water supplies.

When Whidbey Island Water Systems Association (WIWSA) director John Lovie addressed Harrington Lagoon’s residents, he didn’t mention the OLF as a possible contamination source. He identified an old Central Whidbey Island Fire station as “the most likely source.” His excuse for not mentioning the OLF, “The Navy was out of scope for the grant.”

In fact, the Department of Ecology grant that WIWSA used for the meeting was supposed to “increase public understanding and involvement in cleaning up contaminated sites.” The OLF is known to be a contaminated site. The fire station Mr. Lovie mentioned is not.

If contamination were linked the OLF, the Navy would have to provide the community with a clean water supply — as it has for contaminated well owners it overlooked in the past. Throwing our firefighters under the bus gets the Navy off-the-hook and leaves pollution victims with little hope of relief.

Mr. Lovie knew of the complaint that the Whidbey Environmental Action Network and I sent to the Navy. The detailed complaint, which he was asked to share with his Board, referenced the Navy’s own documents, highlighted the flaws in its investigations, and pointed to the OLF as a possible source of Harrington Lagoon’s contamination.

Representatives from Island County Public Health and state departments of Ecology and Health, all described by the Navy as “partners” were present at the WIWSA meeting. None have called on the Navy to pay for the testing that would determine the source Harrington Lagoon’s contamination, or if other water supplies are contaminated.

Island County Public Health made itself part of the problem when it helped the Navy with its plan and “messaging” for the first PFAS investigation in our communities—a plan it kept from public until after it was underway. It didn’t look for all PFAS known to be in the water and established investigation zones that missed wells later found to be contaminated, like Harrington Lagoon’s and the Whispering Pines Homeowners Coop.

Island County Public Health’s praises of WIWSA officers Lovie and Joe Grogan may have enhanced their credibility. Both may have past praiseworthy accomplishments, but neither spoke up when the Navy was asked to expand its investigations, when the new hospital was asked to install a PFAS filter, when Coupeville’s schools were asked to offer PFAS free water in the schools, or when Coupeville wasn’t telling its citizens about all the PFAS in their water.

What the Navy’ so-called “partners” and the WIWSA share is the unwillingness to question the actions of Whidbey island’s most powerful polluter — which is why citizens should explore other sources of information and act to protect themselves.

Rick Abraham is a Greenbank resident and a researcher for law firms representing pollution victims against numerous corporate polluters including chemical plants, refineries, waste disposal facilities and manufacturers of harmful products.