What you need to know: Understanding Dayton’s drinking water issues

Water issues have once again made their way into the Dayton area headlines. Here’s a brief Dayton Daily News guide to understanding the latest.

1. Is the local water safe to drink?

Dayton and Montgomery County officials have not advised against drinking the water.

County Administrator Michael Colbert said, “We are not saying the water is unsafe … If we felt our community was immediately threatened, we would absolutely advise citizens to cease water consumption. That isn’t the case, but it has raised enough flags for us to involve the Ohio EPA.”

MORE: Breach of contract? Montgomery County, Dayton at odds over water supply

2. What started this latest spat over water?

Late Friday afternoon, Montgomery County sent the Dayton Daily News a news release announcing the county “has concerns about the region’s water quality.” Specifically, the county highlighted “the impact of per- and polyfluoroalkyl contamination, or PFAS, in the city’s water supply.” The county gave Dayton officials “notice that the county will be taking the necessary steps to understand the extent of the contamination entering our distribution systems from the city.”

Montgomery County has accused the city of Dayton of breaching its contract for water service by failing to be transparent about potential contamination by man-made chemicals, according to a letter from the county administrator to the Ohio EPA.

The city of Dayton has asserted the water is safe to drink and disputed that it hasn’t been transparent with the county.

Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said the city has been aggressive in responding to PFAS contamination and has shared all of the testing data it has generated with the county.

3. What are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that include different types of substances, including some known as PFOA, PFOS, GenX and others. PFAS can be found in foam used to put out fires, and foams like that frequently were used in firefighter training at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Officials believe the PFAS in Dayton’s system were caused by firefighter foam used during training at Wright-Patt and the Dayton Fire Training Center on McFadden Avenue.

Some studies have shown that PFAS exposure might affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children; lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant; interfere with the body’s natural hormones; increase cholesterol levels; affect the immune system; and increase the risk of certain types of cancer.

4. What steps is the Dayton Daily News taking to investigate?

The Dayton Daily News has focused on PFAS concerns since 2016.

The Dayton Daily News assigned an investigative reporter to work with the paper’s city, county, state, national and military reporters as part of the newspaper’s Path Forward project, which digs into the most pressing issues facing the community. This ensures the newspaper’s resources are focused on this high-priority issue.

MORE: Progress slow in addressing chemicals in local water systems

So far, the Dayton Daily News has found:

• Most water utilities are not cleaning PFAS contaminants from the water they are producing; instead most are turning off wells where water has been found to be contaminated with the chemicals.

• Millions of dollars have already been spent locally and across the state due to PFAS contaminants in the water supply. Billions of dollars likely would have to be spent by the federal government and the U.S. Department of Defense to address contaminant sites across the nation.

• Other cities near military bases are testing the blood of residents to study the impacts of PFAS exposure. The practice is not occurring in Dayton and surrounding communities near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

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