Some Butler Twp. property owners affected by ‘forever chemicals’ eager for city water

Some Butler Twp. private well owners concerned about their health and property values declining would like to transition to public water because a group of chemicals — linked to cancer and other health effects — has been detected in the area’s ground water.

Several of the residents are in neighborhoods where the Ohio Department of Health has said they have a high concentration of the contaminants known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances ― or PFAS.

The property owners would like to have access to a $3 million waterline the city of Union is installing near Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center. The new line will allow the center to switch to public water after high levels of PFAS were detected in one of its drinking water wells last year.

The facility is located at 9101 Frederick Pike in Butler Twp., between the city of Englewood on the west and Dayton International Airport to the east. The water line project is a partnership between Union, Aullwood, Montgomery County and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which is contributing $1.7 million. Union is paying the remaining $1.3 million.

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‘PFAS are a public health issue’

The new water line will be less than three miles long, and it will go from East Martindale Road to Frederick Pike, along South Frederick Pike and under U.S. 40 to Aullwood. Most properties in the communities surrounding the center aren’t close enough to access it.

Residents such as Phillip Bayless, who lives on Kley Road, said he will consider moving if he can’t get access to the city drinking water. His home is in the area the state determined is “most affected” by the group of so-called forever chemicals.

PFAS are a public health issue, so he and other neighbors believe local and state governments should step in and help residents.

“The least they can do would be to look into possibly getting us clean drinking water,” said Bayless, who has young children.

State officials have not said if they’ve had discussions about adding more water lines. Montgomery County officials said interested homeowners should contact Union.

The city of Union has the capacity and the ability to install additional water lines in the community if Montgomery County were to ask or even if a group of neighbors want to foot the bill, City Manager John Applegate said.

“It’s not cheap,” he said. “It’s a matter of how many people are in a cluster of the area, what’s the distance, because that’s the part that gets really expensive, unless there’s grant money, and I don’t know about that right now. But we’re open to see what can be done, because I understand the problem, and we are willing to help if we can.”

PFAS is unregulated

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 used to put out 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.

The U.S. EPA has a recommended health advisory level for PFAS of 70 parts-per-trillion, which the Ohio EPA adopted. A part per trillion is equal to about a grain of sand in an Olympic-size pool. Aullwood’s PFAS level is 96 ppt.

The U.S. EPA does not regulate PFAS, however, several states have set advisory levels much lower than Ohio. New York’s is 10 ppt and Michigan’s is 24 ppt.

Shortly after PFAS was detected at Aullwood, the state’s health department sampled 49 private wells in the community to determine the extent of the contamination and to inform well owners of possible risks to their drinking water.

Of the wells ODH tested, five had PFAS levels below 70 ppt. Residents throughout the community also have tested their wells, and some had traces of the chemicals.

The wells in which the state detected PFAS are located within the boundaries of Old Springfield Road to the north, and Kershner Road to the south, just north of Interstate 70. State health officials determined that the area has a high concentration of PFAS, and they recommended that all property owners there test their wells.

Can PFAS affect property values?

Prior to the ODH’s recommendation, residents began learning about PFAS and its health impact through media coverage, and they became more concerned. Some hired contractors to test their wells, costing between $400 and $1,000, depending on several factors.

Lee Guild, who lives on Frederick Pike near York Road, said she and her family use their well water for everything except drinking and cooking. She’s not tested her well, but given the presence of PFAS in the area, she’s concerned that it might be contaminated.

Some of her neighbors have avoided testing their wells because they fear that their property values might decline if PFAS is found, Guild said. Others would like to get access to public water, however, they are on fixed incomes and couldn’t afford the connection fees even if water lines were extended to their neighborhood, she said.

“The answer would be for us to get on city water, that would be great,” Guild said. “It would be a win-win all the way because we’ll be drinking water that we know is safe. But I know in terms of monetary concerns, it’s just not feasible. There should be resources available from the state and county to the residents to help us.”

It’s not clear if property values could be affected if an area is known to have PFAS. Government financing such as VA, FHA and others typically require well water be tested for certain contaminants — e-coli, nitrates, nitrites, lead, chloroforms — prior to approving a loan, said Heather Powell, a mortgage banker with USA Mortgage in Dayton. PFAS is not part of that list, she said.

Resident Doug Fink of Jackson Road said he moved to the area because it’s rural — he can go hunting in his backyard — yet close to surrounding cities. He prefers well water, and he likes not having a monthly water bill. However, if PFAS will affect his property value, he’d consider moving if there’s no access to drinking water at a reasonable price.

Until recently, Bayless and his family used their well water for everything such as cooking and showering, but they drank bottled water. After the ODH found a high concentration of PFAS in his neighborhood, they started cooking with bottled water, he said.

His family spends $150 to $200 a month on bottled water, plus annual costs for well testing and maintenance. So he would welcome the savings and health benefits of switching to public water if possible.

”For me, it just makes sense for anyone who has young children and has a family; you would want clean water,” Bayless said.

But not everyone in the community wants public water, particularly because they prefer not to have a monthly water bill. Kley Road resident Don Simmon said he has a reverse osmosis water filtering system, and he’s comfortable with the well water.

He recently tested his well for PFAS, and he’s awaiting the results. But his decision to switch to city water, if it becomes available, will be based on the test results and the cost of the connection, Simmon said.

Well water vs. city water

Abinash Agrawal, a Wright State University ground water expert and earth science professor, recommends residents, particularly those who live in the high risk areas for PFAS, test their wells.

Switching to public water may not be appealing to some well owners because of the cost and other factors. But city water is highly recommended because it’s held to high standards, Agrawal said. Municipalities such as Union and Dayton spend millions of dollars annually to treat drinking water, which they test for contaminants quarterly and is regulated, unlike private wells.

The Great Buried Valley Aquifer, which is the main source of drinking water for most communities in the region, is safe to drink untreated, experts say. However, well owners might not always be aware of all the potential contaminants, including PFAS, that do not have a color, taste or smell.

Amanda Kerfoot, who lives on Kley Road, said she’s in favor of testing the well water for “peace of mind,” and she prefers city water, given what she’s learned about PFAS in the past year.

Kerfoot said she and her husband are willing to make the financial sacrifice to get city water for the sake of their family’s health.

“I want my mind cleared,” she said. “I feel like city water is going to be a blessing for us. I will feel better about bathing my children, and I’ll feel better when they are doing their water activities outside. It is the best option, it’s what we need to do.”

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