6 things we learned in our investigation of PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in local water systems

Studies show that exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — “forever chemicals” found in certain products and drinking water — may be linked to a few kinds of cancer, thyroid dysfunction, reproductive harm and other health concerns.

A Dayton Daily News investigation found that 15 of the region’s public water systems, which supply drinking water to hundreds of thousands of residents, have levels of PFAS that exceed a federally proposed legal limit of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) for the group of chemicals, according to Ohio EPA records.

Here are six things we learned in our reporting:

  1. Montgomery, Greene and Warren counties were among the five counties in Ohio with the most water systems that detected PFAS over the U.S. EPA’s proposed limit. Fifteen public water systems in our nine-county region reported samples over 4 ppt.
  2. Firefighting foam used at the region’s military base plays a role in how water systems were contaminated with the two most common types of PFAS — PFOS and PFOA . Multiple studies connect exposure to these kinds of PFAS to health conditions experienced by civilian and military firefighters.
  3. Dayton is the region’s largest water provider, supplying drinking water to the city and hundreds of thousands of residents in Montgomery and Greene counties. The city’s leaders say new equipment and testing procedures will filter out contaminants in the city’s drinking water supply. The city won’t provide details of those plans beyond that.
  4. Scientists at the University of Dayton Research Institute are researching ways to eliminate PFAS through incineration. PFAS takes thousands of years to break down due to their strong carbon and fluorine bonds.
  5. Coming into compliance with new EPA standards will be costly, but changes also estimated to save Americans roughly $1.2 billion in healthcare costs. Activists with the Environmental Working Group, an organization that studies health and the environment, believe local governments should not be footing the bill for PFAS remediation. Rather, companies and agencies that expelled the pollutant into the environment should be responsible for costs related to its clean-up, the group says.
  6. Long-term solutions to address PFAS contamination will take time, but residents can take action now to limit exposure. Anyone who is concerned about PFAS in their drinking water can use reverse osmosis of activated carbon filters, which researchers show are effective in filtering out PFAS as long as they are maintained.

About the Author