Dayton wants to build $250M PFAS water treatment facility, the largest in US

The aim is to treat harmful “forever chemicals” that are in the drinking water supply; funding for project is still uncertain, lawsuit about source of contamination ongoing

The city of Dayton says it is in the early planning stages of constructing a new $250 million PFAS treatment center that would be the largest facility of its kind in the United States and one of the larger projects in the city’s history.

Dayton wants to build a new facility at its Ottawa Yards campus near the northeast edge of downtown that has the ability to treat man-made “forever chemicals” in up to 96 million gallons of water each day, which is the water production capacity at the Ottawa Water Treatment Plant.

For a cost comparison to the $250 million project, Dayton’s general fund budget for 2024 is about $214.5 million.

The new advanced water treatment facility will try to combat and reduce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the water supply, which officials say should help the city meet new maximum contaminant level limits recently set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The new EPA PFAS rule requires public water systems to complete initial monitoring testing by 2027,” said Michael Powell, director of Dayton’s water department. “However, the city of Dayton has been very proactive regarding PFAS and has been routinely testing its drinking water for PFAS since 2017, further illustrating Dayton’s ability to make sound decisions regarding threats to the water system and our ability to collaborate with both the U.S. and Ohio EPA.”

More than 200 million Americans may be exposed to PFAS forever chemicals in their tap water, according to research by the Environmental Working Group. PFAS are toxic chemicals that are found in common products like non-stick cookware, carpets, firefighting foams and paint.

Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA issued new regulations that set Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) of 4 parts per trillion for two PFAS compounds (PFOA and PFOS). Previous EPA health advisories in 2016 had set concern levels at 70 parts per trillion.

Water utility systems have five years to comply with the new maximum contaminant levels.

Dayton says the PFAS levels in its drinking water at the Ottawa treatment plant recently were higher than 5 parts per trillion but lower than 10 parts per trillion, according to city data.

The city said it fully expects to meet the EPA’s five-year mandate, as long as there is funding available to pay for its proposed PFAS-treatment investments.

The city’s proposed PFAS facility would be able to treat 96 million gallons of water each day, which is how much water can flow through the Ottawa treatment plant. Dayton’s other water supply and treatment plant — the Miami plant, located at 3210 Chuck Wagner Lane — does not have detectable levels of PFOS and PFOA, according to the city.

The city has secured $96.9 million in infrastructure improvement funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, but that money is for other projects and will not be used to fund the PFAS treatment facility, Powell said.

Dayton continues to seek funding to remove PFAS from the drinking water, and the city has sued Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Department of Defense, claiming they were responsible for the chemical contamination in the the city’s water supply.

Powell said hopefully the city will be able to recover PFAS-related costs to minimize the financial impact to its water customers. But he said the city does not yet fully know what impact PFAS treatment will have on water rates.

“Our desire is for these costs to be paid by the responsible parties, not our ratepayers,” Powell said.

About 400,000 people in Dayton and Montgomery County (three-fourths of the county) get their drinking water from the city of Dayton’s water system.

Last year, the city approved a $3.5 million contract with Tetra Tech to help with planning efforts and preliminary design work for new PFAS treatment facilities.

Tetra Tech, which offers consulting and engineering services, said the city’s PFAS strategy includes expanding pumping and recharge, installing an interconnect between its two treatment plants and installing new PFAS treatment technology.

The city’s investments will help address emerging contaminants and maintain a high-quality water source for the region, the company said.

The treatment facility remains in the planning phase, though a 30% design drawing will be completed as a first step for the project, city officials said.

A next step would be to complete the full design, followed by construction, Powell said.

The design will be based on data collected by the city and Tetra Tech, which is collaborating with the U.S. EPA’s Office of Research and Development, he said.

That work will help determine the best treatment needed to remove PFAS from the water supply, plus determine the size of the new facility, officials said.

In addition to the new PFAS facility, the city also is looking at spending millions of dollars to try blend water contaminated with PFAS with water that has undetectable levels of the chemicals.

Dayton also plans to expand its water quality lab to improve PFAS testing and add new wells in the Miami Well Field.

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