Mountain View Voice

Opinion - April 12, 2013

Military families hit with bad water, TCE

One can hardly blame the military families who live in Moffett Fields Wescoat Village for being highly concerned about the air and water in their homes.

Several weeks ago the Voice received an anonymous letter from a resident who said brown water was running out of her tap and that bathing in that water caused itching. But the most concerning part of her complaint was not the dirty water, but the claim that the Department of Defense and the company managing the 181 units in her complex had not warned residents about — or even provided an explanation — about the dirty water episode.

In addition, the resident said she and her neighbors are worried about vapors from the toxic chemical TCE that have been found nearby and could be seeping underground toward the military housing complex. And despite the severity of the chemical scare, residents of the the Wescoat complex turned down offers by the R. J. Lee Group to test their homes for toxic vapors as they did in nearby areas last week. The reason: the military families fear being disciplined if they took it upon themselves to allow their homes to be tested without prior approval.

And they have good reason — if they were to be forced to leave the military housing, they say there is no way they could afford market rate rents in Mountain View. Military wages are hardly in the same league as the salaries paid at Google.

The Environmental Protection Agency heard the concerns of the Wescoat families and has promised to meet with them this Monday, April 15, at a NASA Ames site. We hope the government can make sure these families are given all the help possible to assure that they have access to clean water and air in their homes.

The good news from local TCE expert Lenny Siegel is that only a small portion of Wescoat housing sits over areas with elevated TCE levels in the shallow groundwater aquifer. And Wescoat was built in 2006 with passive slab ventilation systems which are designed to keep the TCE vapors from coming through the floor.

For its part, the Environmental Protection Agency said it had provided residents of Wescoat with fact sheets about TCE, but many said they had not received such information.

But regardless of whether a warning was issued, it now appears that action will be taken to notify residents about potential water problems, which have subsided after the system was flushed.

More worrisome is the TCE problem. Although the Wescoat homes may be protected by a system which can keep the toxic vapors out, at the very least the EPA should test these homes to make sure the systems are functional and the air is free of the dangerous vapors.

This is also an opportunity for the government to do right by military families who have extremely limited resources to deal with these problems.

After all, members of the military live in this housing with their families are performing rescue missions overseas in the service of the U.S. government. The least we can do is assure them that the air and water in their homes is safe.

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