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Addressing the Silent Threat: Uncovering PFAS Contamination in Washington's Drinking Water


PFAS contamination in drinking water

In a recent investigative report by Manuel Villa and Isabella Breda for The Seattle Times, a concerning revelation has come to light regarding the contamination of drinking water wells in close proximity to military bases in Washington by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This comprehensive analysis of military-published test results over the past two years paints a disturbing picture of the extensive presence of these "forever chemicals" in the state.


The Scope of PFAS Contamination


As reported by The Seattle Times, PFAS has been identified in 866 private drinking water wells, constituting nearly half of all wells tested by the military in the past two years. Alarmingly, concentrations in 551 of these wells surpassed the levels recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for safeguarding human health. However, approximately 430 of these wells fall below the military's threshold for immediate action, leaving affected communities in a precarious situation.


Military Installations & PFAS


Historically, military bases across the United States were obligated to employ firefighting foams containing PFAS due to their efficacy in combating high-intensity fires. This has resulted in the contamination of water sources near military installations, posing a direct risk to neighboring communities. The Department of Defense is presently assessing the potential impact on human health and the environment and is gearing up to implement the EPA's final drinking water standard in the upcoming months.


Health Implications & Environmental Consequences


PFAS within the human body can disrupt the immune system, interfere with hormonal functions, elevate the risk of various cancers, and pose threats to reproductive health. The contamination near military bases in Washington has raised serious concerns regarding the long-term health effects on residents, with some areas already reporting health issues attributed to PFAS exposure.


Community Challenges


Communities near military bases, including those surrounding the Army’s Yakima Training Center and Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island, are grappling with PFAS contamination exceeding advisory levels. Notably, private well owners lack mandatory testing obligations, leaving them vulnerable to potential health risks. The contamination has also reached a mobile home park near Naval Base Kitsap, prompting investigations in Kitsap County and underscoring the extensive impact of PFAS contamination.


Government Response & Funding


Acknowledging its role in the contamination, the military has allocated substantial funds for investigating and mitigating PFAS pollution. Nevertheless, the urgency of the situation necessitates a comprehensive, cross-governmental approach, as emphasized by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. The fiscal year 2024 Defense appropriations bill includes a significant investment of $515.4 million for PFAS and toxic firefighting foam cleanup and remediation, demonstrating a commitment to addressing the crisis.


The recent revelations regarding PFAS contamination in Washington's drinking water near military bases demand immediate attention and resolute action. The health and well-being of communities are at stake, necessitating a collaborative effort between federal, state, and local authorities. As investigations continue, it is crucial to prioritize the safety of affected residents, provide clean drinking water, and implement measures to prevent further contamination. The long-term health effects of PFAS exposure cannot be ignored, and a comprehensive strategy is required to safeguard the well-being of those living near military installations grappling with this environmental crisis.


Sources:

Manuel Villa: 206-464-2262 or mvilla@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @mvilla1859

Isabella Breda: 206-652-6536 or ibreda@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @BredaIsabella

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