The Miami Valley is serving as a starting point for a state-led study of the origins of PFAS “forever” chemicals in Ohio’s water bodies, according to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials who say work is already underway.
PFAS, short for per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a toxic group of chemicals and have been detected in public water systems and private wells throughout the region and beyond. They take thousands of years to break down in the environment and accumulate in the body.
“My administration has worked to help Ohioans remediate water systems affected by PFAS,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. “The next step after remediation is to attempt to identify the source of PFAS contamination, and we are going to begin with the Miami Valley where there is a great need for more information.”
The study is expected to focus on testing PFAS contamination in fish, eliminating aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) fire suppressant and working with utility operators to further monitor PFAS discharge.
“This isn’t new regulation, this isn’t a new law,” said Anne Vogel, Ohio EPA director. “This is, ‘Let’s figure out where the problem spots are.’ It will be a multi-step process.”
Earlier this month, the Ohio EPA began testing fish in the Great Miami River for PFAS. Vogel said this step will provide details about the extent of PFAS in surface water and where discharging sites are located.
According to an analysis of federal EPA data by the Environmental Working Group — an organization that studies the environment and health — PFAS was detected in largemouth bass in the Great Miami River in areas south of Dayton and north of Vandalia in 2008.
Test results from that federal study reveal the presence of PFAS — most commonly a type known as PFOS — in freshwater fish. The problem is widespread, affecting almost every state and in some states including several bodies of water, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Also a concern of Ohio officials is the use of firefighting foam in the region. Because PFAS are heat-resistant, they have often been used to create firefighting foams used at military bases, airports and firefighting training centers.
“We’re going to eliminate that as any potential (contamination) source in our future,” Vogel said.
The city of Dayton has two separate lawsuits pending against PFAS manufacturers and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Department of Defense related to firefighting foam.
The Ohio EPA will also work with public water systems throughout the Miami Valley to determine where it can monitor discharge of PFAS into surface water.
Working with the state’s EPA in this initiative is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Department of Health, among other agencies.
Data collected during the Miami Valley portion of the study will inform how the state proceeds in analyzing other parts of the state, Vogel said.
This effort comes a few years after the Ohio EPA detected high levels of PFAS at Aullwood Farm Discovery Center’s public water system. This led to the discovery center switching to Union’s water system. Butler Twp. is also running a second round of PFAS testing for private wells in the area near Aullwood and Dayton International Airport.
A recent Dayton Daily News investigation found PFAS has been detected in 15 area public water systems at levels that exceed guidelines soon to go into effect from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for what’s considered acceptable in drinking water.
“The region is rightfully proud of the water asset it has,” Vogel said. “We want to be protective of that.”
It’s unclear how much the state will spend on this stage of PFAS testing and monitoring. But preventing further contamination is crucial to the health of Ohioans and will reduce costs related to treatment of water sources, Vogel said.
“It’s so important that we find and stop the source of this kind of contamination,” Vogel said. “It’s a strategy: do we want to keep treating it at the end of the process? Or do we want to get at the source and stop it from affecting our sources of water from the front end?”