Navy finds toxic contaminants in Whidbey Island water

File photo (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

Whidbey Island water has been found to have toxic levels of a firefighting chemical, leftover from past Navy operations.

“It’s deeply concerning,” said Mike Welding with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. “The Navy wants to do the right thing and make sure we take actions to ensure the health of people in the local community, especially when it comes from operations the Navy undertakes.”

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The Navy is testing areas all over the country where it used Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). The foam is used to fight fires. It contains Perfluorinated Compounds, known as PFAS. The Navy is testing Whidbey Island water from the ground within a mile radius of Ault Field and Outlying Field Coupeville on Whidbey Island.

“We also tested at Outlying Field in Coupeville and found traces of it in the one well we tested there,” Welder said.

“There are past activities that took place that I don’t think anybody figured the compounds in AFFF would pose a problem,” he said. “They were discovered and we are taking action to do the right thing.”

There are 340 potential sites for contamination, and the Navy has taken 100 water samples. A total of 34 results have been received so far. Three of those results indicate PFAS in the water are above the EPA lifetime health advisory levels. Two of those results were from OLF Coupeville and one from Ault Field. The EPA recently publishes levels of PFAS that would be considered harmful. The EPA lifetime health advisory level is .70 parts per trillion. The three Whidbey Island samples in question tested above those levels.

AFFF is still used to fight fires but is now made with a different formula. The type of AFFF with the toxic PFAS was last manufactured in 2002, but Welder said that type is still being phased out.

According to the Everett Herald, the chemicals could be linked to increased cancer risk, development problems in children and fetuses, and issues with immune and reproductive systems. PFAS persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in animals and are toxic to laboratory animals.

“The issue is how far does it travel if it is in the environment, which is what we are looking into,” Welder said.

Whidbey Island water

A lot of drinking water on Whidbey Island — and that is used on the military bases — is pumped in from Anacortes and is sourced from the Skagit River. But wells are where many residences get Whidbey Island water. The Navy has tested such wells around the areas where it used the firefighting foam with PFAS in the past.

The Navy continues to test the remaining water samples. It expects to finish testing by the end of January and release the results in February.

“The Navy is going to provide those people with safe drinking water until we can figure out how to remove the contaminant from the water well, filter it out or something like that,” Welder said. “It’s something that still needs to be worked out.”