Yakima Training Center seeks community input after chemicals found in nearby wells

SELAH, Wash. — Dozens of community members living near the Yakima Training Center are relying on bottled water after their drinking water wells were found to contain high levels of PFAS.

PFAS is a group of potentially dangerous chemicals found in aqueous film forming foam, which was used in firefighting efforts are the training center until 2014.

The U.S. Army has tested 108 nearby wells and found 38 wells with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) levels higher than considered healthy by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lt. Col. Luke Wittmer, who serves as commander for the Yakima Training Center, said those wells provide drinking water to 56 homes in the area.

“At YTC, paramount and top priority for us — and the Army — is to ensure that those community members are safe and that no one is drinking water with PFAS above the EPA’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion,” Wittmer said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, current scientific studies show exposure to certain levels of PFAS can have negative health effects, including:

  • Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.

“However, research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can lead to a variety of health effects,” EPA officials said on their website.

Until further measures can be taken, the Army is providing residents with bottled water for drinking and cooking. Environmental engineer Mark Mettler said it’s unclear when the PFAS issue will be resolved.

Mettler oversees the Installation Restoration Program at the Yakima Training Center, which is dedicated to monitoring and remediating environmental cleanup sites.

According to Mettler, private well testing is just the beginning of long-term federal efforts to identify and address PFAS issues — a process detailed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act commonly referred to as CERCLA.

Officials held an open meeting Thursday evening at the Selah Civic Center to allow community members to ask questions about their PFAS response efforts and to share their concerns.

Mettler said they’re about to head into the second phase of the CERCLA process, which will being in summer 2022 and involves remedial investigation and a feasibility study.

That will also include testing for additional wells in the area, a public open house with community members and recruiting volunteers to represent area residents on a Restoration Advisory Board.

For further information or clarification, contact YTC IRP Manager Mark Mettler at 253-966-8004 or mark.a.mettler2.civ@army.mil, or contact Joseph Piek with Joint Base Lewis-McChord at 253-966-0148 or joseph.j.piek.civ@army.mil.

READ: U.S. Army finds chemicals in private wells near Yakima Training Center