The U.S. Army’s Yakima Training Center contains dozens of sites contaminated by chemical spills and toxic waste, including some that have threatened drinking water supplies in nearby wells. In order to ensure the Army does everything possible to clean up these sites and protect public health, the Washington Department of Ecology issued a draft enforcement order on Feb. 1 that requires the Army to address these environmental hazards in line with state and federal standards.
As part of the enforcement order, Ecology is soliciting public input on a potential investigation, an action plan, and future public involvement in the cleanup process.
Although the Army and Ecology have been working on a site-wide cleanup plan since 2018, concerns with contamination at the training site took on new urgency in 2020, when Army tests revealed unsafe levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water around the base. PFAS are often used in firefighting foam at locations like the training center. They can easily seep into groundwater or run off into streams and rivers. Known as “forever chemicals,” they do not naturally break down in the environment and have a range of toxic effects on human health.
“Our top priority is protecting both people and the environment,” said Ecology Director Laura Watson. “This is an emergent issue that requires decisive action. Issuing an enforcement order is necessary to hold the Army accountable, as well as ensure public input on future cleanup actions.”
Currently, the Army is conducting cleanup efforts without public review or Ecology oversight. It has so far provided bottled water to some nearby homeowners, but has not committed to cleaning up the contamination to meet Washington standards, which are more protective than federal cleanup levels.
Ecology’s enforcement order will ensure that both the impacts linked to PFAS and concerns tied to other known contaminated sites on and around the training center are cleaned up to meet both state and federal standards. That will help to ensure nearby residents can rely on their wells to provide water that is safe to drink, said Holly Myers, director of the Office of Drinking Water at the Department of Health.
“The Department of Health is working closely with Ecology to address PFAS health concerns at the Yakima Training Center,” Myers continued. “Oversight by Ecology would provide needed transparency and a neutral third-party check on the Army’s PFAS investigation.”
Including state agencies in the cleanup response is not just a matter of being a good neighbor, Watson said – it's required by law.
“The Army has taken some initial steps to test wells and provide drinking water to residents, but we need their help to fully understand the scope of the problem and ensure the right actions are taken to fix it,” Watson said. “The Army has an obligation to clean up PFAS and other types of toxic contamination on the training site to levels that meet state standards and protect the public.”
As part of its enforcement order, Ecology is seeking public input on these draft items through March 22:
- Enforcement order, which requires the U.S. Army to conduct a remedial investigation and create a draft cleanup action plan on the site.
- Permit for correction action, which provides oversight and a regulatory framework for the cleanup.
- Public participation plan, which details how the community will be kept informed on the cleanup process, and what opportunities they will have to engage with the process.