Fed agency study lowers risk level for firefighting foam

Navy officials need to review a new study on chemicals found in some firefighting foam that contaminated well water on Whidbey before deciding if further action is required, according to a spokesman at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

A study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, calls into question the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory level for two types of perfluoroalkyls, or PFAS, chemicals, which was set at 70 parts per trillion two years ago.

The draft study sets minimum risk levels at seven times lower for one of the chemicals and ten times lower for the other.

Two years ago, Navy bases across the nation responded to the EPA’s advisory level by testing well water and drinking water near areas where firefighting crews had used a type of firefighting foam that is particularly effective at putting out petroleum-fed fires, but also contains PFAS chemicals.

On Whidbey, the Navy tested wells around Outlying Field Coupeville and the Ault Field base on North Whidbey. Eight wells near OLF Coupeville were found to exceed the lifetime health advisory and two wells near Ault Field exceeded the level, according to a Navy spokesman.

Also, testing near Area 6 on the Ault Field base found five wells exceeded the limit. Area 6 is a former landfill site.

The Navy supplied the homes using the contaminated wells with bottled water and is working to find a permanent solution, according to Navy officials.

The Town of Coupeville conducted its own testing and found that town water contained levels of one type of PFAS at 25 and 27 parts per billion in two tests. This was below the EPA lifetime health advisory but well above the minimum risk level proposed in the new draft study.

The Navy agreed in January to install a filtering system for town water, though the time frame is unclear.

The new Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry study had been suppressed by the Trump Administration because it might cause public relations problems for the Pentagon, but it was quietly released this week, according to ProPublica, a nonprofit news agency.

Richard Abraham, Green-bank resident and activist, has also been critical of what he feels are efforts by NAS Whidbey, Coupeville and Island County “to keep the public in the dark about the extent and seriousness of this contamination.”

Abraham is especially concerned about testing for different types of PFAS chemicals. The new study set minimum risk levels for two other PFAS chemicals that EPA has yet to establish guidelines for.

“Even now, the Navy and the Town of Coupeville refuse to identify the detection limits to be used to monitor the town’s water if and when it is filtered for PFASs,” he said in an email.

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