‘What am I going to do?’: Butler Twp. residents with PFAS-contaminated wells left on their own

BUTLER TWP. — A second round of testing found more private home wells in Butler Twp. containing toxic, man-made chemicals at levels exceeding what the U.S. EPA considers safe in drinking water.

But the dozens of residents with wells contaminated with PFAS were told at a public meeting they are on their own in coming up with the potentially thousands of dollars needed to either install a filter or lay pipe to a public utility.

Butler Twp. officials hosted the Tuesday meeting to help residents whose private wells were tested for toxic “forever chemicals” understand the results of the testing and assist those whose wells tested positive in determining next steps.

Those residents included Ben and Christy Jones, who have lived in their Butler Twp. home for 48 years. The couple said the meeting left them feeling concerned about how long they’ve been drinking the water and how they will address the issue.

“It’s very stressful and leaves people wondering, ‘Should I take a shower? Can I water my garden? Can I give this water to my animals?’” Ben Jones said. “It upsets this rural utopia that we all worked hard for and you can see it in everyone’s eyes when you talk to them about it, and they’re just thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’”

In 2022, Butler Twp. and Montgomery County partnered to offer free well testing in an area near Aullwood Farm after the farm’s public water system tested positive for PFAS at among the highest levels in the state.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are resilient chemicals that take thousands of years to break down. Studies have shown long-term exposure to PFAS has been liked to health problems including kidney and liver damage and certain kinds of cancer.

PFAS are synthetic chemicals that can be found in a staggering number of everyday consumer products, according to geologist Linda Aller, of Bennett & Williams Environmental Consultants, who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting.

“These chemicals are all man-made, so there’s nothing natural about them,” Aller said. “They’re in every fabric that you love, and anything that’s grease-resistant, stain-resistant, heat-resistant — everything from Teflon, to firefighting foams, to waterproof mascara.”

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s action level — or the limit after which remediation efforts should be taken — for PFAS is currently 70 parts per trillion (ppt).

One part per trillion is equal to a grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

But experts now believe PFAS levels as low as 4 ppt can cause adverse health effects, Aller said, and the U.S. EPA has proposed a federal change to the legal standard for public water systems to reflect this.

The testing of private wells in Butler Twp. was completed in two rounds, each focusing on a separate designated sampling area.

Results from round one, finalized in April 2023, show that of 155 private wells tested, PFAS was detected in 70 of them. In 34 of these cases, levels exceeded the proposed U.S. EPA guidelines of 4 ppt and in two cases exceeded current standards of 70 ppt.

Round two results, shared during Tuesday’s public meeting, show that of 93 additional private wells tested, PFAS was detected in 44 of them. In 14 of these cases, levels exceeded the proposed guidelines of 4 ppt and in one case exceeded current standards of 70 ppt.

While the proposed change in EPA guidelines will require public water systems to control the levels of PFAS present in water distributed to consumers, this standard will not apply to private wells, essentially leaving residents on their own when it comes to addressing the problem.

Aller told residents Tuesday their options for removal of PFAS from their water supply include installing filtration systems certified to remove the chemicals.

There are only two types of water filters that effectively remove PFAS from drinking water, Aller said. These are granular activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis filters. These can vary in costs depending on brand and size of the system.

Butler Twp. has also offered to pay the tap-in fee of $1,000 for township residents who wish to connect to the new city of Union water line on Martindale and Frederick Pike.

But this option would also come with costs to individual property owners, who would have to foot the bill to lay pipe from the water line to their homes. This price can quickly swell by thousands of dollars for residents whose homes are situated further from the water line.

As of Tuesday’s meeting, Administrator Erika Vogel said no residents have accepted the tap-in offer.

A recent Dayton Daily News investigation found PFAS in private wells is a widespread problem in certain areas, especially near airports and military bases where PFAS-laden firefighting foam was frequently used in training for years.

But in addition to being on their own in fixing the problem, well owners in many areas are on their own to test for PFAS.

The Dayton Daily News found other areas surrounding public water systems that have tested high for levels of PFAS, such as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s water system — where PFAS was detected at levels more than twice what was measured at Aullwood — don’t have plans to offer testing for private wells. There are hundreds of private wells in these areas, and a test can run homeowners $600 to $1,000.

Staff writer Sydney Dawes contributed to this report.

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