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

Days after levels of cancer-causing chemicals were detected in the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center’s drinking water system, officials there were trying to figure out their next step, Executive Director Alexis R. Faust said Friday.

Immediately after high levels of so-called “forever chemicals” PFAS were found in the center’s water system on Wednesday, officials prohibited everyone from drinking it. Instead, they’ve provided bottled water for staff and visitors. However, that’s not the long-term solution for the educational and events facility, which is financially strapped after loosing revenue the past several months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Faust said.

Now, she and her team have to decide if it’s best for the center, located at 9101 Frederick Pike in Dayton, to connect to another jurisdiction’s public water system, she said. Nearby public water systems include Englewood, Union and Vandalia.

“I don’t know when we’ll have a plan in place,” Faust said. “This is obviously a top priority for me. I’m just learning, and reading everything we can, and we’re going to have to work with some engineers, the Ohio EPA and the health department, and figure out what are some possible solutions.”

The Aullwood officials posted signs on sinks and water fountains warning people against consuming the water. The center pays a company that delivers bottled water daily, and they will stick with that plan for as long as necessary, she said,

No programs, including the Head Start pre-school at the facility, will be interrupted as a result of the positive test for PFAS, Faust said.

Aullwood’s water system tested positive for elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS on Wednesday, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Officials identified two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, at combined levels of 96 parts per trillion, which is above Ohio EPA’s action level of 70 ppt, officials said.

Another PFAS compound was detected in the water, however, it was below the action level.

Studies suggest that exposure to the chemicals might affect pregnancy, increase cholesterol levels and cause some forms of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PFAS were once widely used in manufacturing, carpeting, upholstery, food packaging and other commercial and military uses. Notably, the substances were — and still are, in some places — used to extinguish fires that couldn’t be extinguished with water alone.

It’s not clear how the center’s water system got contaminated; calls to the Ohio EPA for comment Friday were not returned.

Testing of Aullwood’s water system is part of Ohio’s PFAS action plan for drinking water, which was released in December. Last summer, Gov. Mike DeWine directed the state EPA and health department to develop the plan in an effort to address potential threats to both public and private drinking water systems.

As part of the testing, the Ohio EPA plans to collect samples from the state’s 1,500 drinking water systems to determine if PFAS is present. About 250 daycare facilities and schools that have their own public water systems are being tested first. The Ohio EPA defines a public water system as a system that provides water for human consumption to at least 15 service connections or serves an average of at least 25 people for at least 60 days each year.

The study started in early March. To date, Allwood’s public water system is the only one in the Dayton region that has tested positive for PFAS.

The Ohio EPA, the Ohio Department of Health and Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County are collaborating to ensure that private well owners in the area near Aullwood also have information about PFAS, water testing and treatment, the release said.

“It’s a serious concern, these are these are serious compounds that are in the water, so we can’t take any chances,” Faust said.

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