Ohio EPA to begin testing for ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will start testing the state’s more than 1,500 public water systems for so-called “forever chemicals,” although the city of Dayton already tests its water for them.

The announcement comes on the heels of the U.S. EPA’s announcement that it will begin regulating chemicals known as PFAS.

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Testing started early in February with several trials, and now the state is ready to officially begin the process, Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said.

The testing 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.

PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, 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.

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PFAS-based foams were formerly used at the city of Dayton Fire Training Center during testing exercises. The foams also have been used in exercises and actual fires at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Both sites are located above the aquifer that supplies the region’s drinking water.

Ohio EPA’s PFAS action plan and the testing will not effect the city of Dayton, which supplies drinking water to more than 400,000 people, including Montgomery County residents, Dayton Water Director Michael Powell said Friday. That’s because the city already monitors the raw and effluent water at both water treatment plants monthly, he said.

“The drinking water results for both of Dayton’s water treatment plants continue to be well below the identified action levels of concern outlined in Ohio’s PFAS Action Plan,” Powell said. “The city will continue its current proactive monitoring and its partnership with the Ohio EPA as guidance continues to be developed for the state’s 1,500 public water systems.”

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As part of the testing, the Ohio EPA will 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, according to the Ohio EPA.

“Children are considered a sensitive population when exposed to environmental contaminants like PFAS,” Ohio EPA Director Laurie A. Stevenson said in a statement. “We need to ensure the water that children drink at these schools and daycares is not contaminated with PFAS above the Ohio PFAS Action Levels.”

The state has not completed its schedule for when each municipality’s drinking water system will be tested, Griesmer said.

Ohio EPA hired three contractors to conduct the tests, Griesmer said. The contractors will collect the water samples, which will be sent to labs for testing, and the results will be given to the state.

Municipalities like Dayton have the option of conducting their own tests and sending the results to the state, as long as they follow the same collection procedures and methods as Ohio EPA. They also must meet the quality assurance results and agree to allow the agency to post the results on its website, Griesmer said.

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The testing’s expected to be complete by the end of this year, and results will be posted at pfas.ohio.gov

Levels of PFAS were discovered in both Dayton and Wright-Patt drinking water supplies several years ago and both took the appropriate steps to minimize the risk to people, the Ohio EPA has said.

Starting in 2016, the city of Dayton shut down some drinking water wells where PFAS was detected. It also has sued the chemical manufacturers, and city officials have refrained from discussing the PFAS issue because of the lawsuit.

READ MORE: Dayton sues PFAS manufacturers

PFAS has been linked to birth defects and other health risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Montgomery County is supportive of the work that the Ohio EPA has done to begin testing for these chemicals throughout the state of Ohio,” said Matt Hilliard, interim director of Montgomery County Environmental Services. “We will continue to partner with our regulators and stakeholders as we move forward with our own testing for PFAS/PFOA in our distribution system.”

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