East Selah residents seek answers about well contamination as U.S. Army expands testing
SELAH, Wash. — Dozens of homes in east Selah are relying on bottled water after learning their wells were contaminated with high levels of chemicals that can cause health problems, but even more are still without answers.
“We want to know when we’re going to be affected,” homeowner Lisa Rogers said. “We want to know when we’re going to be tested.”
About six months ago, Lisa and Paul Rogers started hearing from neighbors whose wells had tested positive for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) levels higher than considered healthy by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The U.S. Army has been investigating PFAS levels in wells near the Yakima Training Center for years, after learning of possible contamination from aqueous film forming foam used in firefighting efforts on the property until 2014.
To date, testing has identified 38 private wells serving 56 homes in the east Selah area with PFAS levels higher than the EPA lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.
But Paul and Lisa said that while they only live a few miles away from the military facility, they only just received a letter this month notifying them that they’re being including in the third phase of testing.
“The letter said, ‘Well, we were going to notify you in June. We’ve notified you in May. We’ll try to test you in July and maybe you’ll know by August or September,” Paul said.
The couple has been living in that house for decades and are concerned about the potential long-term health effects if they find out they have been drinking contaminated water all this time.
“We listen to the state toxicologists saying, ‘We’ve been studying this forever chemical for 30 years and it’s nasty,'” Paul said. “That’s pretty scary stuff and to not have any sense of urgency. I think that’s our biggest frustration.”
They’re not alone in their concerns, which is why the Army decided to hold two open houses Thursday, providing updates on Phase 3 testing, an overview of their progress so far and an opportunity for residents to get answers from experts.
Yakima Training Center commander Lt. Luke Wittmer said the purpose the event is to bring together all the resources needed in one place to provide the community with open, honest and factual information.
“We held an event back in March, to really engage with the community and start that discussion. We took a number of those suggestions, as well as concerns from the community at that time. We have been busily working on implementing a lot of those suggestions over the past month, month-and-a-half to better communicate and reach the community,” Wittmer said.
Wittmer said they’ve sent out notices to 261 well owners in the area, letting them know that they will be included in the third phase of testing.
The Army is also looking for volunteers to join their Restoration Advisory Board, which will meet for a few hours every three months to go over any new information and give feedback on draft plans.
“We have had other restoration advisory boards who have totally turned decisions around … because the community made us aware of situations where it really wasn’t the best idea,” said Cathy Kropp with the U.S. Army Environmental Command.
Kropp said they want to make informed decisions based on what they learn from the community, but they can’t do that without their help.
“When the Army is making decisions on what to do next, the community can provide us their feedback so that we can consider that they may know of things that we’re not aware of,” Kropp said.
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