Health officials: Test private wells for ‘forever chemicals’ if you live in these areas

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
A look at PFAS

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Health officials are urging property owners in communities near the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center to test their private drinking water wells to see if they are being contaminated by a group of toxins that are known to cause cancer, birth defects and other health issues.

In a joint citizen advisory dated July 1, the Ohio Department of Health, Public Health, Dayton & Montgomery County and Miami County Public Health, shared with those residents information about findings so far of an investigation into well water contamination in that area. They collected data from nearly 50 wells for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — during a five month period.

Aullwood is on the east bank of the Stillwater river, between U.S. 40 and Interstate 70, and is a little more than 1 mile southwest of Dayton International Airport. According to an Ohio Department of Health map provided with the advisory, the most area where ‘most affected’ is between the airport property and the nature center.

ExploreHealth Department: Residents near Aullwood should test their wells

The document was sent to 817 private well owners. That is a significant expansion of the number of property owners being notified; last summer shortly after PFAS chemicals were detected in Aullwood’s well water, ODH notified 180 local property owners.

“The state wants to ensure that private well owners in the community have awareness of any potential risks of harmful substances in the drinking water in their area,” ODH officials said this month. “By strategically selecting private wells in specific areas for multiple rounds of sampling, we have been able to create a map that helps residents to better understand the next steps that should be taken.”

Abinash Agrawal/ contributed
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Abinash Agrawal/ contributed

The Dayton Daily News Path Forward project digs into solutions to the biggest issues facing our community, including the safety and sustainability of our drinking water. For this story, local and state officials were interviewed about the PFAS issues in the area and what property owners can do to remediate the toxins.

ExploreCleaning up ‘forever’ chemicals in drinking water not easy task

Studies suggest that exposure to PFAS — dubbed forever chemicals because they do not break down under normal environmental exposure — might affect pregnancy, increase cholesterol levels and cause some forms of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infants and children, nursing women and those who have a compromised immune system might be at a higher risk of health effects from PFAS exposure.

The contaminants can be found in firefighting foam, water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, waxes, polishes and some food packaging, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Strategic testing

The Ohio Department of Health started sampling private wells in the communities surrounding Aullwood in January. That came after the agency detected PFAS in the center’s drinking water. The contaminants were discovered as part of a check by the Ohio EPA testing all 1,500 public water systems across the state for the group of toxins in 2020. Those 1,500 systems supply drinking water for about 90% of the state population, and the tests were conducted as part of Gov. Mike DeWine administration’s efforts to identify the scope of PFAS problems in the state.

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

In October, officials identified two PFAS compounds in the Aullwood water system at combined levels of 96 parts per trillion, which is above U.S. EPA’s recommended action level of 70 parts. A part per trillion is equal to about a grain of sand in an Olympic-size pool. Shortly after that discovery, the ODH alerted 180 property owners in the area to test their wells for the contaminants.

Between January and May, the agency selected 49 private wells in the area 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

Five of the wells had PFAS levels, 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 — shaded in pink on the ODH-issued map — 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.

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

Tests of the remaining 44 wells did not detect PFAS, although it’s possible that the contaminants are in the water. Those wells are located in the area that borders Neal-Pearson Road, between Kessler Frederick Road to the north, and Interstate 70, between Meeker and Dog Leg roads to the south. Property owners in that area — shaded in blue on the ODH map — were advised of the possibility of PFAS in the area. But the ODH is not recommending that they sample their well water, although property owners are free to do so if they choose.

“While PFAS are dangerous and concerning substances, the public can be reassured that there are treatment methods to ensure that there is safe water for drinking and cooking in homes,” ODH said in a statement.

Testing and treatment options

The cost for PFAS sampling can range from $400 to as much as $1,000. The agency recommended several consulting firms property owners can use to sample their wells.

Given the fact that sampling and treatment can be costly, residents who live in or near high PFAS concentration areas could bypass testing and go straight to installing treatment systems. The ODH recommends that option particularly if households have pregnant women or other sensitive population in the home.

Reverse osmosis is an option for residents who opt to bypass testing and install a treatment system, the agency has said. RO removes contaminants from unfiltered water. They can cost between $300 and $1,000, and are typically installed under the kitchen sink. It can be installed in other parts of the house, but wherever the system’s located, all water used for cooking, drinking and preparation of items such as infant formula should come from the treated water faucet.

ExploreResidents’ choice: Pay for testing, or go straight to filtration systems

One drawback to the RO system is that it wastes a large volume of water during the treatment process. Generally, for every 10 gallons of water that goes into the system, up to eight gallons are sent down the drain as waste, effectively returning the PFAS to the environment. Two to three gallons of treated water are then produced.

Reverse osmosis systems have been found to be effective in most cases, particularly the models with several stages that include carbon, said Ginnny Yingling, a hydrogeologist at the Minnesota Department of Health.

ODH should provide ‘additional information’

Some property owners have hired consulting firms to test their wells for PFAS after the state’s first advisory in October. Linda Aller, a hydrologist with Bennett and Williams Environmental Consultants Inc., detected forever chemicals in a total of six wells in the area, she said in April. Although she’s gotten calls from residents since the ODH issued the latest advisory, she’s yet to sample any wells, Aller said Wednesday.

Bennett and Williams Environmental Consultants is one of the firms the ODH recommends property owners use.

One local water quality scientist said the residents need more information than they are being given. The citizen advisory and the accompanying map that shows areas with higher PFAS concentration lacks specific details that could help impacted residents make better decisions about how to address forever chemicals in their drinking water, said Abinash Agrawal, a longtime professor and water remediation expert at Wright State University.

The citizen advisory and map the ODH issued are a good first step, but the state should make public additional information about their findings and be more transparent, said Agrawal.

Explore‘Forever chemicals’ detected in two private wells near Aullwood farm in Dayton

For instance, he said, in the documents, the state says PFAS it detected in the five wells are below the recommended action level of 70 ppt. However, they don’t provide adequate details, particularly since the U.S. EPA is expected to create much lower drinking water standards.

“The additional details would help area residents grasp the risks if ODH can release a revised map showing the range of PFAS levels in the area based on recent results,” he said.

Agrawal, who has extensively studied PFAS and monitored water quality in the region for decades, recently launched a study of his own. In June, he sampled 20 wells in the area surrounding Aullwood, and is awaiting test results.

“I expect to pursue this further, based on the preliminary results,” he said.

About the Path Forward

Our team of investigative reporters digs into what you identified as pressing issues facing our community. The Path Forward project seeks solutions to these problems by investigating the safety and sustainability of our drinking water. Follow our work at DaytonDailyNews.com/path-forward.

The Ohio Department of Health recommends the following consultants and labs for testing PFAS in drinking water. They will collect samples from your home and ship them to a certified lab for analysis.