NAS Whidbey has spent $24 million on PFAS contamination | Corrected

The military started testing groundwater around bases across the nation six years ago.

The Navy has spent $24 million so far on investigating and responding to contamination of Whidbey Island groundwater from a chemical found in a type of firefighting foam used to extinguish jet-fuel fires.

The Oak Harbor City Council recently agreed to provide the Navy a temporary easement to connect a trailer park and several homes in the Goldie Road and Easy Street areas to city water as a long-term drinking water solution under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, according to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The military started testing groundwater around bases across the nation six years ago after the EPA named per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly called PFAS, as “emerging contaminants” that have been linked to potential human health problems, particularly developmental, and have become known as “forever chemicals.”

Officials from NAS Whidbey offered free testing on wells in certain areas near Ault Field and Outlying Field Coupeville. Specifically, the Navy tested wells to see if they exceeded the EPA’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and/or perfluorooctanoic acid.

From November 2016 to July 2020, the Navy tested 286 drinking water wells near Ault Field, OLF Coupeville and the Area 6 Landfill.

The tests found that eight wells on North Whidbey, with 24 associated homes, and eight wells in Central Whidbey, with 11 homes, exceeded the level. The Navy immediately started providing those homes with bottled water or kitchen sink filters.

The chemical was also found in Coupeville municipal water in smaller concentrations.

The Navy has spent millions to resolve the issue on Whidbey Island. It funded a filtration system for the town of Coupeville, with final improvements completed last year. Three years ago, the estimated cost of the treatment system was $2.6 million, but the actual price turned out to be $7 million, according to the Navy. Together with waterline extensions and other expenses, the entire cost of the long-term solution for Coupeville was $9.8 million so far, the Navy reported.

Seven Central Whidbey homes on contaminated wells were connected to the town water system. The other four Central Whidbey homes, which are on three wells, continue to receive alternative water — bottles or a kitchen-sink filter — until a long-term solution is implemented.

“The Navy has spent over $10 million on drinking water response actions near NAS Whidbey Island, Ault Field and OLF Coupeville,” the base reported. “To date, PFAS investigations at NASWI Ault Field, OLF Coupeville and Seaplane Base total over $14 million.”

For the homes on North Whidbey, the Navy’s preferred solution is to connect nearly all of the homes to city water.