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Yakima Health District looks at long-term water solutions in East Selah

Yakima Herald-Republic - 2/3/2024

Feb. 3—The Yakima Health District is pursuing longer-term solutions to PFAS contamination in East Selah near the Yakima Training Center.

The Yakima health board approved an ordinance this week that will allow owners of contaminated Group B water systems to treat the contamination rather than abandon the system.

The change comes in response to the forever chemical groundwater contamination in East Selah, where a handful of Group B water systems serving private homes were at risk of being shut down.

Forever chemicals, also known as PFAS, are a family of chemicals, some of which are extremely pervasive and toxic to humans even in diminutive amounts.

PFAS was present in large quantities in a firefighting foam the U.S. Army used for years inside the Yakima Training Center. Over that time, the PFAS-rich foam seeped into the ground, contaminating the groundwater below as it slowly flowed in the direction of East Selah. Evidence of contaminated groundwater outside the training center was first found in 2021. Since then, federal, state and local agencies have worked to provide affected residents with clean drinking water. The U.S. Army has started to provide treatment systems for some homes.

The ordinance gives the health district oversight of all Group B systems in the county.

Group B water systems serve residential and commercial structures. By law, they can serve up to 25 people or nine households. Before the ordinance, Group B systems were under the authority of the Washington State Department of Health.

Yakima County joins 19 other counties in the state with full authority over its Group B water systems.

Andre Fresco, executive director of the health district, said the ordinance was first proposed not only to protect families in East Selah from losing access to their only water source but also to ensure future land development in the area.

"This is really a response," Fresco said. "You could have a situation where someone owns property, and if they see their well is contaminated, they won't be able to develop that land. So we are really concerned not only for immediate health and welfare but also for long-term development in the county. This ordinance allows us to address the problem so that people can remain safe but also property can be developed."

To read the full ordinance and learn about its enforcement and treatment requirements, visit the Yakima Health District website.

The future of water in East Selah

Shawn Magee, director of environmental health, said the health district will use DOH funds to expand the groundwater testing area around East Selah. He said the expansion is to determine the direction the contaminated groundwater is flowing.

This would give the county a good idea of the size of the contaminated area ultimately lay the groundwork for a study into the feasibility of a series of community water systems or a small municipal water system that would make water in the area safer to treat and consume.

"It's not a short-term solution by any means," Magee said, referring to the time and effort necessary to establish something like a municipal water system in the area. "We're looking at all the different options that could be a long-term solution. We're discussing that at the state level and at the federal level with the Army."

Magee said expanding the testing area and searching for future grant funding are the next steps in the process.

Santiago Ochoa's reporting for the Yakima Herald-Republic is possible with support from Report for America and community members through the Yakima Valley Community Fund. For information on republishing, email news@yakimaherald.com.

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