Teton County’s Department of Health is urging county commissioners to pay close attention to “significant water quality issues” at Hoback Junction.
“We feel a great sense of urgency with this issue,” said Dan Forman, chairman of the local health board. “We know that there is due process that has to occur, we just want to make sure there is a continued sense of urgency with all of the stakeholders.”
The letter, attached to this story online at JHNewsandGuide.com, updates commissioners on what’s known about nitrate levels in drinking water. Sent Tuesday, the letter was jointly prepared by the Teton Conservation District, the Teton County District Board of Health and the Department of Health.
The letter details concerns around nitrate levels in drinking water from a public health perspective but doesn’t contain many concrete recommendations for the future.
“Efforts should be made to ensure those on private wells are educated as to the need for periodic water testing,” the letter reads. “Alternative water sources for owners and other forms of assistance that can be provided should also be provided.”
As the Jackson Hole News&Guide first reported in August, Hoback Junction residents are avoiding drinking their well water as experts try to determine what’s to blame for the groundwater pollution. Talks are underway to create a long-term solution. But the spotty nature of water-quality degradation has made it difficult to get all Hoback Junction residents on the same page. South of the Hoback River on the Snake River’s east bank, for example, there’s no documentation of a similar decline in water quality.
“These water quality issues have created concern for the public’s health and warrant continued exploration for suitable water sources and governmental support,” the letter reads.
The board discussed next steps including speaking with a University of Chicago professor and epidemiologist conducting a large-scale study on nitrate and birth outcomes in Denmark, plus sending educational materials to local OB-GYNs, pediatricians and daycare providers.
Board member David Peterson is also submitting a separate letter to the county. He said he agrees with the joint communication but that “as a clinician, I felt that something was missing.
“There is some data out there that suggests a correlation between nitrates and a variety of cancers, birth defects and other untoward outcomes. There are also studies that deny any association,” Peterson’s letter reads. “These studies are obviously not the totality of our understanding.”
His letter is more urgent than that of the full board.
“If there is a connection we, as health care professionals, have a moral obligation/responsibility to investigate and educate the community on our concerns and that would likely require time and funding on the part of the Teton County Commissioners,” his letter reads.
He also writes that: “In two years, I would not be excited about a friend whose wife has delivered a deformed child coming to me and saying, ‘How long have you known about this problem and how come you didn’t say anything to me?’ To me, this is far too important an issue to not begin responding right away.”
The most likely course of action is being brought up by Commissioner Natalia Macker, the liaison between the Board of Health and the county, during a voucher meeting Monday. Commissioners are expected to discuss whether or not a workshop should be planned.