Read the full article by Hal Bernton and Manuel Villa (The Seattle Times)
“SELAH, Yakima County — In 2016, Brandi and Brad Hyatt purchased a three-bedroom home with sweeping views of the Cascades, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.
Their house sits more than 4 miles east of this Central Washington community, beyond the reach of Selah’s public water system. So, the couple and their two children relied on a well punched into a basalt lava rock aquifer to quench their thirst, cook, clean and bathe.
In February two U.S. Army representatives knocked on the Hyatts’ door to deliver cases of bottled water and a carefully worded letter that noted a ‘potential risk to human health.’
The Hyatts’ well was one of 300 residential drinking water wells tested for contamination from two firefighting foam chemicals that seeped into groundwater flows from the Army’s Yakima Training Center.
They are part of a class of ‘forever chemicals’ — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS — that rank as one of the most pervasive sources of pollution on the planet. They are found in soil, air, water and even the snow of Antarctica.
In the human body, the two firefighting foam chemicals may disrupt the immune system, interfere with hormones, increase the risk of prostate, kidney and testicular cancers, high blood pressure in pregnant women and harm the reproductive system, according to studies cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Brandi Hyatt, after moving into house, started suffering from a thyroid condition with symptoms that included chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, stomach and chest pains. Some studies have shown that the firefighting foam chemicals, which were present in each glass of water she filled from the family tap, increase the risks of such illness.
‘So many people have thyroid diseases, and I have always been a bit embarrassed by how out of control mine is,’ Hyatt said. ‘Why is mine so all over the map? Maybe it is this poison that my body can’t clear — that I’ve been drinking for years now.’
Yakima Training Center is one of five military installations in Washington state where PFAS was used and then later detected in drinking water wells in neighboring communities.
Since the summer of 2021, the Army has been investigating the spread of these chemicals to residences around the training center by paying to test wells. Army officials use the results to determine who to provide bottled water as well as longer-term assistance that will provide safe flows of water for drinking and other uses.
In Yakima and elsewhere, the Defense Department has set this threshold at the level of a 2016 U. S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory, which had set the limit at 70 parts per trillion for someone drinking from the same water source through the course of their lifetime.
In June, however, the EPA dramatically lowered the lifetime advisory level of the two chemicals to less than 1 part per trillion.
Washington state officials earlier this year also set a much limit lower than the Defense Department as an ‘action level’ when efforts should be made to reduce contamination. In the Yakima area, they have sought to get the Army to provide assistance for any residents with test results that exceed those limits.
‘What we have been pushing for all along is to address that gap,’ according to a state Ecology Department official Greg Caron, who has met with Army officials.
But the Army, so far, has stuck to the old, much higher threshold that the Defense Department has used across the country.
In Yakima, that policy has sown confusion and distrust among some residents whose homes sit downslope from the Yakima Training Center.
The Army-financed tests found 155 wells tested positive above the new EPA advisory level, according to a Seattle Times analysis of test results. But only 62 well owners currently qualify for Defense Department assistance.” …