Aullwood switching to public water after ‘forever chemicals’ detected in well

Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm and nearby residents with private wells will have the opportunity to get their drinking water supply from the city of Union after a group of toxins known to cause cancer were first detected in the area nearly a year ago.

However, it’s imperative that officials determine the source of the the contaminants, commonly known as PFAS, to prevent them from spreading further, said Alexis Faust, Aullwood’s executive director.

ExploreAullwood searching for solutions after ‘forever chemicals’ detected in drinking water system

“We’ve stopped the bleeding, but we still have to find out what caused it in the first place,” she said Wednesday. “I think it’s really critical that we find out where the PFAS is coming from so that we know how to prevent the contamination from getting worse in our waterways.”

Abinash Agrawal, a ground water expert and Wright State University professor, agrees. The contaminants in the ground can migrate to nearby wells, he said. Therefore, the Ohio EPA should investigate the PFAS migration pathway in the area.

The center, located at 9101 Frederick Pike in Butler Twp., has been offering its staff and guests bottled water since October 2020, when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency detected elevated levels of PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in the water system. Officials identified two PFAS compounds at combined levels of 96 parts per trillion, which is above Ohio EPA’s action level of 70 ppt. A part per trillion is equal to about a grain of sand in an Olympic-size pool.

PFAS, dubbed forever chemicals for their longevity, were once widely used in manufacturing, carpeting, upholstery, food packaging and other commercial and military uses. Notably, the substances were — and still are, in some places — used to extinguish fires that couldn’t be extinguished with water alone.

Exposure to high levels of PFAS might affect pregnancy, the kidneys and liver, increase cholesterol levels, decrease vaccine response in children and cause some forms of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Testing of Aullwood’s water system was part of Ohio’s PFAS action plan for drinking water, which was released in 2019. Last summer, Gov. Mike DeWine directed the state EPA and health department to develop the plan in an effort to address potential threats to both public and private drinking water systems. As part of the plan, the agency sampled 1,500 public drinking water systems across the state. They detected the chemicals in 24 drinking water systems in the Dayton region.

Explore‘Forever chemicals’ found in 24 drinking water systems in region

After the chemicals were detected at Aullwood in October, the Ohio Department of Health between January and May collected samples from 49 private wells and tested them to better understand the extent of the PFAS contamination in the area.

The Ohio Department of Health issued this map urging property owners in the pink area to test their wells for a group of toxic chemicals. 
ALEXIS LARSEN / CONTRIBUTING ARTIST
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The Ohio Department of Health issued this map urging property owners in the pink area to test their wells for a group of toxic chemicals. ALEXIS LARSEN / CONTRIBUTING ARTIST

Of the wells tested, five had PFAS, but in amounts below the recommended action level. Those water systems are located within the boundaries of Old Springfield Road on the north, and Kershner Road on the south, Frederick Pike on the west and Dog Leg Road to the east. Health officials are recommending that all property owners in that area test their wells for PFAS.

If they detect forever chemicals above 70 ppt, private well owners should use an alternate drinking water source until they can treat or remediate the contaminated water, the ODH said.

Tests of the remaining 44 wells did not detect PFAS, although it’s possible that the contaminants are in the water.

ExploreHealth Department: Residents near Aullwood should test their wells

Aullwood’s decision to connect to nearby Union’s water system came after the center talked with a consultant, as well as the Ohio EPA. They determined that connecting to Union’s waterline would be the best short- and long-term solution to the drinking, and the most cost effective, Faust and the agency said.

Union and the Montgomery County Transportation Improvement District have teamed to extend public waterlines to Aullwood. The waterline is an extension of a project Union had developed to bring water service to the Martindale and Frederick Pike Road, along Frederick Pike and under U.S. 40. The new connection will allow the city to offer water service to residents and businesses in the area, said Dina Pierce, an Ohio EPA spokesperson.

The project will cost about about $3 million. The Ohio EPA will contribute a $1.7 million principal forgiveness loan to Union. The city and Montgomery County will pay the remaining balance.

The project is expected to be complete by the end of November.

“Ensuring local residents and businesses have access to clean and safe drinking water is one of the highest priorities a local municipality holds,” said John Applegate, Union city manager.