County drinking water tests below EPA recommendation for ‘forever chemicals’

Ohio’s health advisory for ‘forever chemicals’ among highest in U.S.

Montgomery County’s drinking water has low levels of PFAS as the water tested below the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended health advisory level, officials announced.

However, those results may be misleading because Ohio’s health advisory for the toxins, dubbed “forever chemicals,” is one of the highest in the country, a local ground water expert said.

Montgomery County, which purchases water from the city of Dayton and distributes it to 250,000 customers, tested its water at 13 locations. They determined that traces of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — in the water ranges from non-detectable to 10.9 parts per trillion. The U.S. EPA’s recommended action level, which the Ohio EPA adopted, is 70 ppt.

A part-per-trillion is the equivalent of a grain of sand in an Olympic-size pool.

PFAS are dubbed “forever chemicals” because there’s currently no technology that can destroy them. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to affects on pregnancy, an increase in cholesterol levels and some forms of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infants and children, pregnant and nursing women, and those who have a compromised immune system might be at a higher risk of health effects from PFAS exposure.

“We are pleased to see that our results returned so far below the (health advisory level) because we want our water customers to know that our water is safe to drink,” Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said in a statement. “Even before we facilitated the water testing, we truly believed the PFAS levels were below the recommended 70 ppt. But being able to see the data resulting from the tests allows us to provide customers with scientific proof showing the water is safe to drink.”

There’s little cause for celebration, given the chemicals’ health concerns and other factors, said Abinash Agrawal, an earth science professor at Wright State University. There’s so much that scientists don’t know about PFAS or its long-term health affects, and they are not regulated at the federal level. Therefore, the U.S. EPA set the recommended action level for the toxins at 70 ppt until it learns more about them, Agrawal said.

The U.S. EPA has been working to regulate PFAS, and the agency is expected to announce a new health advisory level in the near future. It’s not clear what the new advisory will be, but it’s expected to be much lower than the current standard, Agrawal said.

Several states are already regulating PFAS, setting their health advisory levels much lower than Ohio’s 70 ppt. Those states include:

  • New York, 10 ppt
  • California, 11.6 ppt
  • Vermont, 20 ppt
  • Michigan, 24 ppt
  • New Hampshire, 27 ppt
  • New Jersey 27 ppt

Montgomery County would prefer not to have any PFAS in the drinking water, said Matt Hilliard, director of environmental services. However, the county is in compliance with Ohio’s current mandate, and if it changes, they’ll work to meet that standard as well, he said.

“We hope we will soon learn of viable solutions to mitigating future PFAS contamination and remove the contaminants that are already in our water,” Hillard said.

Several Miami Valley communities, including Dayton, have grappled with PFAS contamination in recent years. Low levels of the contaminants were detected in 24 Southwest Ohio public water systems in counties such as Greene, Montgomery, Clark and Warren, according to the Ohio EPA. They made those discoveries while testing the more than 1,550 public drinking water systems across the state to determine if PFAS were present.

The testing, which wrapped up in late December, is part of Ohio’s action plan that’s aimed at addressing potential threats to both public and private drinking water systems.

Montgomery County plans to test its water for PFAS annually moving forward. They are obligated to ensure that water customers have quality drinking water, so the testing gives officials “current, scientific data we need to — not just meet — but exceed the standards outlined by the Ohio EPA,” said Matt Hilliard, Montgomery County director of environmental services.

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