Health Department: Residents near Aullwood should test their wells

180 homeowners in Butler Twp. and surrounding municipalities are urged to test their wells for PFAS after the chemicals where detected in the Aullwood Farm well

Public Health ― Dayton & Montgomery County and the Ohio Department of Health have told 180 home owners near the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center to test their private wells for pollutants that can cause harm to both animals and humans.

The State of Ohio will pay for the testing costs for some residents, even though that’s typically the responsibility of the private well owners, officials told the Dayton Daily News exclusively. The ODH, in consultation with Gov. Mike DeWine’s office, chose to pay for the testing because there’s no indication that the PFAS discovered at Aullwood is an ongoing problem in the area or across the state, Dan Tierney, the governor’s spokesman, said, noting that the decision was made in recent days.

Letters were mailed to residents urging them to test their wells shortly after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency discovered levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances ― or PFAS ― in Aullwood’s drinking water system in October. The center is located at 9101 Frederick Pike, in Montgomery County’s Butler Twp., between the city of Englewood on the west and Dayton International Airport to the east.

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Residents are being urged to test their wells because the Ohio EPA identified two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, at combined levels of 96 parts per trillion, which is above the agency’s action level of 70 ppt. A part-per-trillion is the equivalent of a grain of sand in an Olympic-size pool or a pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips.

Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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, the newspaper talked with health officials about the PFAS contamination at Aullwood Farm, and why private well owners nearby are being urged to test their water for the contaminants.

The extent of the contamination in the area is unknown. That’s why local and state officials are urging private well owners in the surrounding municipalities to test their drinking water as soon as possible.

Public Health ― Dayton & Montgomery County consulted with ODH and Ohio EPA before making the recommendation.

Residents told to test their wells are in the area of:

  • Meeker Road, north of I-70 to Frederick Pike
  • Frederick Pike, north of I-70 to Jackson Road
  • Dog Leg Road, north of I-70 to Jackson Road
  • Jackson Road
  • Kershner Road

Considerable risk

Abinash Agrawal, a ground water contamination and remediation expert at Wright State University, has no affiliation to Ohio EPA, ODH or Aullwood. However, he’s extensively studied PFAS in wastewater and groundwater, and is also urging residents to test their wells as soon as possible. While Agrawal and other scientists have learned quite a bit about the movement and persistence of PFAS in groundwater at contaminated sites, its spreading behavior in any given aquifer is difficult to predict without local data, he said.

Abinash Agrawal, Wright State University earth and environmental sciences professor./ Contributed
Abinash Agrawal, Wright State University earth and environmental sciences professor./ Contributed

Agrawal reviewed an Ohio EPA map that shows the locations of the contaminated Aullwood Farm well and surrounding homes with private wells. Based on the map, he said, the groundwater appears to flow into the area from the northeast, which is where Dayton International Airport is, as well as the factories and warehouses surrounding it.

“The risk of PFAS in drinking water is considerable, and people should familiarize themselves to the risk that it poses,” he said. Residents should take precautionary steps and follow EPA guidelines, he said.

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There’s no evidence that the airport is the source of the Aullwood contamination. But this news organization asked airport officials if they are considering testing groundwater on the airport grounds to look for traces of PFAS chemicals.

“Safety is always our No. 1 concern at the Dayton International Airport,” Gil Turner, director of aviation for the city of Dayton, responded. “The Airport is willing and prepared to offer our help and cooperation with the OEPA with whatever testing and samplings they require.”

The airport’s own water supply comes from Dayton’s Miami Water Treatment system, which conducts monthly tests for PFAS, Water Director Mike Powell said. The water comes from well fields several miles to the south east.

Exposure to PFAS can affect pregnancy, increase cholesterol levels and cause 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 may be at a higher risk of health effects from PFAS exposure, Public Health ― Dayton & Montgomery County said in the letter to residents.

People can get exposed to PFAS by consuming contaminated water, and testing is the only way to determine if the chemicals are present, the agency said. The toxins do not have a smell or taste.

Statewide testing of public water systems

The Ohio EPA started testing the state’s 1,553 public drinking water systems at the beginning of the year as part of its PFAS action plan, which was developed in 2019. It was during the testing process that the agency discovered the PFAS at Aullwood Farms.

As part of the testing, the state EPA is collecting samples from the public drinking water systems to determine if PFAS is present. About 250 daycare facilities and schools around Ohio that have their own water systems are being tested first. The Ohio EPA defines a public water system as one 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 a year.

Aullwood, which has a preschool, has the only public drinking water system in the Dayton region that has been found to have the chemicals above action level. There are 120 more public water systems to test, and the state expects to receive all of the results by the end of the year, said Heidi Griesmer, Ohio EPA’s deputy communications director. The statewide test results are available on the Ohio EPA website.

The agency said it plans to test Aullwood’s water system monthly for the next year. They took the first monthly sample in early November, Griesmer said.

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Ohio EPA has no interest funding available for public water system projects that address PFAS contamination, she said. However, the state will continue working with Aullwood to ensure the PFAS level are low and determine if other wells in the area are contaminated, Tierney said.

Exploring options

Some Butler Twp. residents ― including Sherry Edwards, who lives across from Aullwood ― said they have not heard from Montgomery County health officials, state health officials or the EPA since they received the letter urging them to test their wells. Prior to receiving the letter, another nearby resident, Earl Moyer, said he and some of his neighbors had never heard of PFAS.

Earl Moyer, a Butler Twp., Montgomery County, resident, discuss his options for testing his well for PFAS after the potentially deadly chemicals were discovered at nearby Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center.  MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Earl Moyer, a Butler Twp., Montgomery County, resident, discuss his options for testing his well for PFAS after the potentially deadly chemicals were discovered at nearby Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Moyer said they’ve done research now, but want the state or the county to hold a virtual townhall to give them more information about the contaminants and update them about what the EPA is finding at Aullwood.

Determining the source of the PFAS in the area and educating the residents should be a priority, Agrawal said.

“The EPA should get this thoroughly investigated, identify the sources, the part of the aquifer that is contaminated and inform the people,” he said. “What’s the long-term impact of PFAS on residential water supply if the local groundwater quality is threatened? I’m sure they are looking into it, but any delay in informing the community about the results should be avoided. As soon as people know, they can start to take precautionary steps.”

Public Health ― Dayton & Montgomery County has no plans to hold a townhall at this time, said Suffoletto, the spokesperson.

Prior to the state informing the Daily News that they will pay for testing private wells, Powell said the agency was exploring options about how to address the problem at Aullwood. The Ohio EPA has had multiple conversations with he and his staff since the agency discovered the PFAS at the farm, and they asked questions about the area, he said.

‘This is a very difficult situation’

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Allwood has been providing visitors and staff with bottled water since the chemicals were discovered, and they’re exploring long-term solutions with the OEPA, said Executive Director Alexis Faust. One option is to connect to another public water system, she said. EPA officials discussed that possibility with Dayton, Powell said.

“Dayton is standing by ready to do anything we can possibly do to assist with the situation at Aullwood,” he said he told EPA officials.

Aullwood’s also considering the possibility of installing a reverse osmosis system, which could cost about $130,000, but that may not be feasible, Faust said. The facility is financially strapped after losing revenue the past several months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, all options are on the table, she said.

“At a time when everybody’s hurting from COVID, this is a very difficult situation for a nonprofit to face,” Faust said.

PFAS Drinking Water Sample Collection Services

The consultants and labs listed below will collect PFAS drinking water samples from your home and ship them to a certified lab for analysis

Source: Ohio Department of Health