East Sierra households may have decades of unusable water


Private well near Yakima training center has high testing for potentially hazardous chemicals

Sierra, Wash. — For the past six years, East Sierra resident Brandi Hyatt and her family have unknowingly consumed food contaminated with potentially dangerous chemicals called PFAS. well water.

“It was devastating,” Hyatt said. “We’ve been raising our children with a chemical known to cause terrible cancer and disease.”

Last fall, Hyatt received a letter from the U.S. Army asking for permission to test wells for chemicals that could seep into groundwater from AFFF — a type formerly used at the nearby Yakima training center. flame retardant.

Of the 108 wells tested so far, officials found 38 wells serving 56 households had PFAS levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health recommendation of 70 parts per trillion.

Contaminated wells, households must switch from taps to bottled water

Hyatt said they were notified in February that their wells had been tested for perfluoroalkyl substances and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at 1 part per trillion, a level the EPA considers safe to drink. more than three times.

The Washington State Department of Health recently set the safe limit for PFAS in drinking water at a lower state level of 10 to 15 parts per trillion.

However, military officials told community members in a public meeting on Thursday that they would rely on the higher threshold set by the EPA and would only offer free bottled water to those whose wells test at or above 70 parts per trillion .

Hyatt said her family — including her two young children — had to stop using well water from the tap indefinitely and switch to bottled water for most daily activities, including drinking, cooking, Wash produce and brush your teeth.

“In terms of adjusting our routines, I mean, we can’t just drink the water in the house anymore,” Hyatt said. “It changes every part of your day-to-day life just to stay safe in your own home.”

Long-term exposure to PFAS in drinking water may increase cancer risk, cause stunting in children

According to the EPA, studies have shown that exposure to specific levels of PFAS can lead to decreased fertility, increased high blood pressure in pregnant women and stunted growth in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone changes or behavioral changes.

Other possible negative health effects include increased risk of prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer, interference with the body’s natural hormones, and increased cholesterol levels or obesity risk.

It can also lower the body’s immune system to fight infection and reduce its response to vaccines. Researchers are still working to determine the long-term effects of exposure to high levels of PFAS.

“It’s shocking to know that the health conditions we’ve been dealing with are now getting more explanations that couldn’t be explained before,” Hyatt said.

Washington State Department of Health health officials are strongly recommending that anyone whose drinking water tests high PFAS switch to an alternative water source, such as bottled water.

According to the Department of Health, changing water sources “is especially important for pregnant or breastfeeding people and formula-fed infants, as these groups drink more water per pound of body weight than most people.”

State health officials do not currently consider showering or bathing to be a significant source of PFAS exposure, but research is still developing their understanding of the resulting negative health effects.

Hyatt said that despite the relatively small risk of bathing, they decided to shower at the YMCA instead to limit further exposure of children to PFAS, no matter how small.

“We take our kids for a swim at the Y, have fun, and of course, take a shower after that, trying to get their life back to normal, and it’s totally abnormal not being able to use the water in your home,” Hyatt said.

Federal cleanup could take more than 30 years to complete

About 100 community members gathered at the Selah Civic Center on Thursday to hear from Army officials and representatives from state and county agencies about long-term plans to address oil well contamination.

Private well testing and supplying bottled water are some of the short-term actions in a decades-long federal cleanup program under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Accountability Act (CERCLA).

Mark Mettler, installation rehabilitation program manager at the Yakima Training Center, said they are about to enter the second phase of the CERCLA process, which will begin in summer 2022 with another round of private well testing.

However, a timeline provided by officials at Thursday’s meeting showed it could take more than 30 years for communities to regain access to clean drinking water from their wells.

“It’s very frustrating because I feel like even if they could move faster, they wouldn’t stick with the plan because they were,” Hyatt said. “They can’t provide immediate assistance other than bottled water right now.”

Residents feel ‘stuck’ with few options moving forward

Hyatt said residents could try installing a system to filter PFAS in their water instead of just relying on bottled water, but the initial cost is high and the system requires additional maintenance in the long run.

“At this point, yes, people can figure it out on their own, but it’s a very large bill that I know there’s going to be a lot of people who can’t afford to think about it,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt said the other option was to try to sell their house, but talking to real estate agents convinced her that even if someone was willing to buy a house with a contaminated well, the value of the property could be much lower than before. In the past.

In addition, Hyatt said several of her older neighbors bought their own homes to spend the rest of their retirement lives, and now, she says, they’re unlikely to see a solution to the problem before they die.

Hyatt said her family ultimately decided against moving because they didn’t want to put their friends and neighbors in an impossible situation without helping them.

“It’s important for us to raise awareness and protect the people who live here so we can have a unified voice and say no to 30 years,” Hyatt said. “We’re not going to wait 30 years for this to ease.”

Communities work together to warn neighbors, ask lawmakers for help

Hyatt said one of her main concerns is the lack of awareness of potentially dangerous drinking water in the wider community. Currently, the Army is only notifying residents that they are seeking permission to test.

“They didn’t know they could be affected by this until they got a letter from the military asking to test their wells, and YTC didn’t know how widespread this was,” Hyatt said. “

That’s why she and several of her neighbors have been going door-to-door in the area to let people know that their drinking water may be contaminated, Hyatt said, even if they haven’t heard from the Yakima Training Center.

“It’s important that people have safe access to clean drinking water, and we can’t afford it right now,” Hyatt said.

In addition to knocking on doors, Hyatt said it has been reaching out to county officials, representatives and senators to see if they can help them with additional resources or a better short-term solution than just relying on bottled water.

“We need those who have the power to go beyond this and provide resources and access to safe water now to step up and be a part of saving people’s lives and caring for communities,” Hyatt said.

Previous reports of well contamination near YAKIMA training center:

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