Ohio currently doesn’t have its own limits for a type of chemicals, but some elected officials have questioned that after a Dayton Daily News investigation showed levels of the toxic substance in Dayton’s drinking water often exceed standards set by other states.
The city’s drinking water consistently tests well below the federal advisory for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which were used in firefighting foams. That limit is set at 70 parts per trillion. But other states have set or are considering limits in the single-digits and teens.
READ THE INVESTIGATION: Contaminants in Dayton water above what some states consider safe
“To me, that was very alarming,” Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman said.
That’s the reason why the county is now going to test for PFAS in the water it buys from Dayton, she said.
“The water right now we can drink,” Lieberman said. “I wish that Ohio EPA would set a standard.”
The Dayton Daily News Path Forward project digs into solutions for the most pressing issues facing the community, including protecting the region’s drinking water that serves more than 400,000 people in Montgomery County. This story looks at the reactions of public officials to Sunday’s Dayton Daily News story examining city PFAS data compared to limits in other states.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in February it intends to establish drinking water maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, for the chemical under the Safe Water Drinking Act, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokesman James Lee said.
EARLIER COVERAGE: Progress slow in addressing chemicals in local water systems
“When the MCL is enacted at the federal level, Ohio EPA would adopt regulations equally as stringent as the federal regulations and would address implementation for Ohio public water systems,” he told the newspaper in a statement. “In the interim, Ohio is following U.S. EPA’s health advisory level of 70 (parts per trillion) for drinking water.”
A spokesman for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine did not respond to a request for comment. As state attorney general, DeWine sued two PFAS manufacturers, DuPont de Nemours and Chemours, alleging environmental damage in Ohio from a Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant across the Ohio River. The companies have sought to dismiss the claims.
Dayton lawsuit: federal understanding evolved
Dayton has sued manufacturers who used PFAS in their firefighting foams. The substance was used in firefighting foams at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Dayton Fire Training Center on McFadden Avenue. Both are near the city’s Mad River well field.
The lawsuit alleges PFAS “are toxic, do not biodegrade, are persistent in the environment, move easily through soil and groundwater, absorb into concrete, and pose a significant risk to human health and safety.”
Dayton’s lawsuit alleges the chemicals are linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, liver damage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, immune system effects, changes in liver enzymes and thyroid hormones, low birth weight and high uric acid.
Further, the city alleges the chemicals “are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children.”
The lawsuit illustrates how the federal government’s understanding of PFAS has changed over time.
In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced a drinking water advisory for two types of the chemical called PFOA and PFOS. The agency advised against exposure exceeding 400 parts per trillion and 200 parts per trillion, respectively.
By 2016, the federal EPA updated its advisory. The agency said drinking water concentrations for PFOA and PFOS, either individually or combined, should not exceed 70 parts per trillion.
A 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed health thresholds for PFOA and PFOS about 10 times lower than the U.S. EPA’s health threshold. That CDC proposal called for levels lower than what was found leaving the Ottawa plant last summer.
Michigan officials set a screening level of 9 parts per trillion for PFOA and 8 parts per trillion for PFOS, according to a collection of state data from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that lobbies for lower PFAS thresholds and is critical of the U.S. EPA.
Other states have proposed lower-than-federal limits, according to the resources council. New York, for example, has proposed enforceable standards for drinking water at 10 parts per trillion.
Before Sunday’s Dayton Daily News story, the highest level of PFAS publicly known to be measured leaving the Ottawa Water Treatment Plant was about 12 parts per trillion in March 2018.
But Dayton tested water leaving the Ottawa plant in September 2018 and found PFOA and PFOS combined at nearly 19 parts per trillion, according to the new data obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
Antani: Findings ‘concerning’ and need study
Dayton’s water services most of Montgomery County, including Kettering, Riverside, Centerville, Trotwood, Harrison Twp., Brookville and a handful of Greene County customers.
Parts of Republican state Rep. Niraj Antani’s district are serviced by Dayton’s water. He said he is continuing to educate himself about PFAS and whether Ohio should set its own level lower than the federal government’s advisory.
“I certainly think it’s something to study and look into if other states are setting their levels below what Dayton and Montgomery County’s water are at,” Antani said. “That certainly is concerning to me.”
State Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley wasn’t available for comment. City spokeswoman Toni Bankston said Whaley does not have a personal opinion regarding PFAS levels, but, “supports the ongoing work of the city’s water department, Ohio EPA, and federal EPA when it comes to the regulation and monitoring of PFAS/PFOS in drinking water.”
Bankston added that the city “strongly supports regulations that aggressively emphasizes proactive measures to protect source water; this would identify and prevent contaminates from entering the drinking water supply.”
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