Hannah Heights Water System on San Juan Island tests positive for PFAS
April 18, 2023 – San Juan County Health and Community Services (HCS) received confirmed test results on Friday April 14 indicating that a well belonging to the Hannah Heights Water System on San Juan Island tested positive for high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are a family of man-made chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment and have been linked to potential health concerns.
Map of tested wells in Hannah Heights and Initial Area of Concern.
The Homeowners Association provides water for the residents. The HOA is serviced by three wells. One is inactive. One is contaminated and has been shut off. The third well is not contaminated and is in use. The county health department will hold a meeting for the HOA members on Wednesday, April 19. The meeting is not open to the public.
County staff are working closely with water quality experts from Washington Department of Health (DOH) and leaders of the Hannah Heights water district to develop a robust plan to respond to this complex situation. In addition, the response team is working to define the risk to water sources beyond the well in question and has begun communicating directly with residents and water districts that are potentially impacted.
Working in tandem with water quality experts, the Hannah Heights Water District has communicated directly with their members, advising an immediate switch to bottled water or the use of point-of use filters. San Juan County is recommending that residents who get their water from wells (either private or as part of a larger system) located in the “Area of Concern” on the map below also switch to drinking bottled or filtered water immediately.
County staff will be reaching out to residents and water system management in this potentially impacted area to discuss testing options and next steps.
A couple of key points:
PFAS are not readily absorbed through skin or air, so existing water supplies are considered safe for bathing, washing, cleaning, etc. It is recommended that water contaminated with PFAS not be used to irrigate gardens where produce is being grown for consumption.
HCS is committed to providing the most up-to-date information for customers of Hannah Heights Water System and all residents who may be impacted by this situation. HCS has created an email hotline which will be monitored Mon. through Fri. 8 am to 4 pm. If you have questions about PFAS or are looking to be directed towards resources, please email
PFASquestions@sanjuanco.com. Response times may vary, but every effort will be made to respond quickly.
Some common questions:
What triggered this test?
New WA State regulations require larger (Group A) water systems to test for PFAS before October of 2024. The Hannah Heights system recently tested both of their wells, and one of their wells registered PFAS in the sample. At this time, six water sources have been tested for PFAS in San Juan County, and this well is the only one to come back with high levels. The other areas that have been tested and had nondetectable PFAS levels are: Mitchell Point, Orcas Landing, Eastsound (Purdue Lake and groundwater wells in town), Orcas Island Golf Estates, and Smugglers Cove. In addition, both Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor have treatment included, so there is likely that there are little to no levels of PFAS in those systems.
What is the likely cause of the PFAS in the groundwater?
At this time it is impossible to know a definitive cause, however nearly all PFAS contamination in WA State has been correlated with the use of a firefighting foam that was no longer in use as of 2002, and likely much earlier than that for most Fire Departments. When in use, it was fully legal, and not widely understood to be a hazard to human health or the environment.
Will there be financial support for private well owners or water systems needing to test?
While both the Federal and State governments are hopefully close to more assertively regulating PFAS and providing more robust support to jurisdictions impacted by PFAS pollution, at this time there is not direct financial support for those impacted.
However, County and DOH water quality staff will be working closely to support those who are potentially impacted, and the County will be aggressively pursuing support for this response from all avenues available. It is very early on in this situation and there is much that will come into much better focus in the days ahead.
Most importantly, as this is a developing situation, we understand that there may be more questions than answers at this time. The HCS Team is working lock step with DOH to support the impacted residents and will be communicating broadly with the community in the days and weeks to come
Links to more information:
PFAS Info for Private Well Owners
Accredited Labs That Test Drinking Water for PFAS
Home Water Treatment for PFAS in Water Supply
Information on Specific Water Filters Certified to Reduce PFAS in Drinking Water
PFAS in Drinking Water: Pets, Gardening, and Livestock
If you would like more detailed information about PFAS:
WA State PFAS Chemical Action Plan
Interstate Technology Regulatory Council PFAS Fact Sheets