Community members have started to assist fellow islanders struggling after tests showed their well had extremely high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), toxic chemicals linked to cancers.
“When the news about the water contamination in a neighboring community first broke there was shock and concern,” Maureen See, San Juan Island resident, said. “On San Juan Island? Yes. Were the levels really that high? Yes.”
Moving from shock to action, Maureen and her husband Harry, and the San Juan Island Fire Fighters Association have organized the “Water Project.”
The association exists to serve the firefighters and the community, whenever needs or hardships exist. It is a non-profit organization comprised of volunteer members and is separate from the Fire Department.
“Their willingness to help with the crisis reflects the empathy of the volunteer firefighters and their commitment to the community,” Maureen said. The situation in the affected neighborhood falls under both an emergency and hardship. With levels of PFO’s being the second highest found in Washington State, they are concerned about their health, as well as burdened with finding drinking water for their families, pets and even gardens.
“It’s important to remember that the Hannah Heights community has no alternative sources of drinking water,” Dr. Seetha Coleman-Kammula PhD., president of PFASolutions told the Journal. “Currently the Hannah Heights community is trying to access funds via the State Drinking Water Revolving Fund (SDWRF). But getting funds via SDWRF can take many months.”
Unfortunately, the residents were informed that SDWRF does not have a provision for safe drinking water supplies and the fund does not allow for either bottled or transported water.
Coleman-Kammula pointed out that these families are currently buying bottled water and that can not be sustained for months on end, and “is certainly not possible to transport water for cooking and brushing teeth etc. So, what are communities in situations .. supposed to do?”
It will likely take years, and require the involvement of multiple government agencies, universities, and experts in PFAS concentration. The County is looking into grants to assist. Meanwhile “Water Project” organizers are working with Kings Market, Ace Hardware, Brownes Home Center and Interisland Water Company to help their island neighbors.
With funds from the Mary See Foundation, four pallets of bottled water were acquired along with water dispensers and 30 five-gallon jugs and 12 three-gallon jugs of water.
The next step has been to find a refill station that the neighborhood can use to replenish the bottles. A Class A water system is required. One option was the Mullis Street fire station’s well.
There were a few concerns; the impact to the well, security, and water quality.
During the regular July 11 San Juan Fire Commission meeting Harry addressed the concerns.
Paul Hart, HOA board member responsible for water, and HOA president Katy Doran were present at the meeting. Commissioner Frank Cardinelli opened up the discussion by asking if this proposal was what the homeowners wanted.
“It is very much appreciated,” Hart said.
The three commissioners voted unanimously for the proposal at the end of the discussion, and Chief Collins thanked Harry and others for doing the “heavy lifting,” researching the issues and coming up with solutions.
However, the station was later deemed not practical Hart told the Journal. The search for a refill station continues.
“The search for water goes on with nothing definitive as yet. Finding water on our island is very hard,” Hart said. The Fire Fighters Association is able to store and distributed bottled water from the Little Mountain Station.
“We urge you to contribute to the Water Project,” Maureen told the Journal. Donations should be made to the SJI Firefighters Association, 1011 Mullis Street, Friday Harbor Washington, and specify Water Project. “With these donations, we can continue to provide clean drinking water to our friends, our neighbors, the children and the elderly. This is extremely important. Please show your island spirit,” she said.
Hart told the Journal while solutions both temporary and long term are being investigated, the neighborhood is grateful for the donation of bottled water.
“It is a wonderful and thoughtful gesture of the Firefighter [Associations’] donation of bottled water and dispensers,” he said.
For more information about the contamination, read “Hannah Heights water system highly contaminated” by Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, published May 3, 2023, and “Hannah Heights continues struggling with water,” by Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, published May 31, 2023.