Wright Patterson Air Force Base
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Closed Wright-Patt drinking water wells could reopen in May

The water drawn out of the wells would run through a new $2 million water treatment facility set to start up in April. Authorities say the facility will reduce firefighting foam contaminants suspected of tainting the water and forcing the shutdown of the wells.

Before the wells are back on line, the base must demonstrate to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency contamination levels meet acceptable drinking water standards, the state agency said.

“As soon as we got results back that were high, we obviously shut our wells down,” said David A. Perkins, base civil engineering director. “We want to get our wells back on line. In order to do that, we had to do this.”

The base will be required to “routinely” test the water, but the frequency of how often it’s sampled is not set, according to James Lee, an Ohio EPA spokesman.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, meanwhile, will launch a $234,000 study to determine if a new drinking water well should be dug on base or if it should connect with a supply off the sprawling installation, among options to explore, officials said. An initial report is expected this summer.

Wright-Patterson has spent more than $1.5 million on investigation of contaminated sites and new monitoring wells.

Drinking water concerns

Concerns over the potential health effects led to a water advisory for pregnant women and young infants on the base for several months in 2016 after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered the threshold for lifetime exposure to polyfluoroalkyl substances.

RELATED: Wright-Patt ordered to shut down well

The man-made substances were byproducts of Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a firefighting retardant linked to groundwater contamination and potentially causing adverse health effects in humans, according to researchers.

Two drinking water wells in Area A exceeded those revised standards of 70 parts per trillion and were shut down. Since then, the base has relied on four remaining drinking wells to supply about 16,000 people in that area. Wright-Patterson is the largest single site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 people working on the sprawling base.

“We have the capacity today to provide safe drinking water to our population, which is what we do,” Col. Bradley McDonald, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing, said in an interview. “As the new (water treatment system) comes on line and proves to execute in the way we anticipate it will execute, that allows us to provide safe drinking water to those that are on the installation.”

McDonald emphasized commitment to both environmental stewardship and community partnerships.

The extra water capacity is needed to boost fire protection and for industrial uses, Perkins said.

“All we needed to do to be in compliance with the Ohio EPA was shut our wells off, which is what we did,” he said. “We could live on the well system that we have for a good long period of time, (but) just like any operation you worry about what could happen next.”

The treatment system filters about 2,000 gallons of water per minute. Each of six large tanks houses 20,000 pounds of granular-activated carbon to remove perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid, both found in the military version of the firefighting foam.

A “shakedown” period of about a month prior to running the water back through the base’s drinking water distribution is in the works, said Raymond F. Baker, 88th Civil Engineer Group branch chief.

Pennsylvania-headquartered Calgon Carbon Corp. built the 2,700-square-foot facility.

The new water treatment system “could very be the long term solution” among future water supply options, Perkins said. “What we have to look at in general is your total operating costs.”

Authorities have not determined how often the water will be sampled, but initially expect it will be at least monthly once the production wells are back online.

Tracking contamination threat

In December, crews installed more than 50 monitoring wells around the base to track where the contamination plume is headed.

The state has expressed concerns to Wright-Patterson that a contamination plume could threaten seven city of Dayton drinking wells at Huffman Dam on the perimeter of the base. The city shut down the Huffman wells as a precaution in June but started pumping or cycling one well weekly in January at the complex “to ensure operation and maintenance of the equipment,” according to Michele D. Simmons, a city environmental manager for water issues.

Dayton has not detected the suspected contaminants in the water, and crews expect to sample the wells at Huffman twice this year, according to Simmons.

RELATED: Dayton shuts down water wells near Wright-Patterson as a precaution

The most recent Wright-Patterson test results of new monitoring wells on the base were pending, said George R. Walters, 88th Air Force Civil Engineer Center restoration branch chief at Wright-Patterson.

While the base has added monitoring wells in areas most likely contaminated with firefighting foam sprayed on training ranges to airplane crashes, nearly simultaneously other wells have been abandoned.

No wells were pulled out of testing in 2016, but abandoning wells has resumed this year. Thirty-five were pulled last month, officials say. They were installed years earlier to detect other ground water contaminants.

In past years, the EPA deemed Wright-Patterson a Superfund site because of environmental issues, and the Air Force has spent millions of dollars on remediation to clean up sites.

MORE ON WRIGHT-PATT WATER ISSUES

Wright-Patt shuts down another problem well

EPA asks Wright-Patt to speed up cleanup of drinking water wells

Wright-Patt yet to decide if it will shutdown contaminated wells on base

Wright-Patterson to drill new wells to protect drinking water 

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