Drinking water is contaminated in some parts of Whidbey Island

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. -- The water that’s flowing through some parts of Whidbey Island is contaminated.

“Fifteen years we drank our well water,” Jan Hovland said.

But it was only recently that Hovland, of Coupeville, learned her drinking water tested high for PFAS, a chemical compound found in firefighting foam and now linked to certain cancers.

It’s a type of firefighting foam called AAAF or Aqueous Film Forming Foaming agent.  

The Navy has been using the foam since the 1980s.

“I don’t think anybody felt it would be a problem,” Navy spokesperson Mike Welding said.

But when officials learned the potential danger to the community’s water system, the Navy said, they voluntarily started testing in December.

Ault Field, the Naval Air Station in Whidbey Island, as well as its outlying field in Coupeville, used the firefighting foam and now high levels of PFAS have been found in 8 wells affecting 9 families, most of them in Coupeville.

“If it comes in above the advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, then the Navy is going to provide drinking water,” Welding said.

The Navy is providing bottled water for families dealing with contaminated water.

Hovland’s test results came back twice the advisory level and Hovland says test results for other families are a lot higher.

“When you are worried, very, very worried, you don’t have room for anger yet,” Hovland said.

Several years ago, Hovland says her husband was diagnosed with prostate and bladder cancer; now she wonders if their drinking water is to blame.

“He has two kinds of cancers, unfortunately, that is linked to these substances,” Hovland said.

The Navy says they are largely phasing out the use of the firefighting foam as they continue to test more areas for contamination.

“The Navy is concerned about their health, too, that’s why we have gone out and done this testing,” Welding said.

“The damage may already be done,” Hovland said.

The mayor of the town of Coupeville says the public water system is safe and that so far the contaminated wells have been private and in unincorporated Island County.