Residents’ choice: Pay for testing, or go straight to filtration systems

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

The State of Ohio announced Friday it will cover the cost for some private well owners in Butler Twp. and nearby municipalities to test their water for toxic, human-made contaminants.

The state typically does not fund private well testing.

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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

The issue came about after Ohio and Montgomery County health officials sent letters to 180 residents in the area urging them to test their wells. Levels of contaminants known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, were discovered in October in Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center’s water system. The farm is located at 9101 Frederick Pike, in Butler Twp.

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In assessing which private water wells should be tested, the state will consider factors such as distance from the impacted well, depths of the private wells and the direction of groundwater flow, Dan Tierney, Gov. Mike DeWine’s spokesman, said during an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News.

It’s not clear if the state will also foot the bill for treatment if PFAS is discovered in the wells that it tests.

“First step is testing,” Tierney said. “I cannot comment on further steps at this time as we need to see what the testing results are.”

Testing and treatment combined for the potentially deadly chemicals could cost more than $1,000.

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Tierney alerted the Dayton Daily News about the state’s decision after the news organization informed the Ohio EPA that a resident felt the agency had the moral obligation to taxpayers to pay for testing.

“Now that the Ohio EPA has detected the (PFAS at Aullwood), they have a moral obligation to test all the wells as a service to taxpayers,” Earl Moyer said three weeks ago.

Sherry Edwards and her husband live across from Aullwood. They have discussed whether to pay for testing or to assume their well is contaminated and invest in a treatment system. One option, she said, is a reverse osmosis water filter system, which experts say is highly effective, but costly.

Sherry Edwards stand in front of her home in Butler Twp., Montgomery County, while discussing her options for testing her well for PFAS after the potentially deadly chemicals were discovered at nearby Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center.  MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Sherry Edwards stand in front of her home in Butler Twp., Montgomery County, while discussing her options for testing her well for PFAS after the potentially deadly chemicals were discovered at nearby Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Like some other residents in the area, she tests her well regularly for a variety of contaminants. But until they received the letter urging them to test for PFAS, they’ve never heard of the group of chemicals. PFAS chemicals at unsafe levels can cause multiple health issues, including birth defects and cancers -- the EPA recommends that the levels not be above 70 parts per trillion. Edwards and her husband continue to drink the water from their system while also exploring their options and gathering information about PFAS, she said.

Earl Moyer, another resident, is researching PFAS and sharing the information with neighbors. They’ve also discussed finding a company that offers group rates for testing and treatment, he said.

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Health officials sent residents a list of PFAS drinking water sample collection services in the state to test their wells. The total cost can range from $500 to more than $1,000, depending on the company. Treatment systems would cost an additional fee if PFAS is detected above the EPA’s action level of 70 parts per trillion, officials said.

There are several state and federal grants, and low interest loan programs available to help lessen the financial burden on well owners. Qualification for some programs is based on household income and other factors.

Given the fact that testing and treatment can be costly, and the state will only pay for some tests, residents who are near where PFAS was discovered could bypass testing and go straight to installing treatment systems. The Ohio Department of Health recommends that option particularly if households have pregnant women or other sensitive population in the home.

Reverse osmosis is an option for residents who opt to bypass testing and install a treatment system, the agency said. RO removes contaminants from unfiltered water. They can cost between $300 and $1,000, and are typically installed under the kitchen sink. It can be installed in other parts of the house, but wherever the system’s located, all water used for cooking, drinking and preparation of items such as infant formula should come from the treated water faucet.

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One drawback to the RO system is that it wastes a large volume of water during the treatment process. Generally, for every 10 gallons of water that goes into the system, up to eight gallons are sent down the drain as waste, effectively returning the PFAS to the environment. Two to three gallons of treated water are then produced.

Diagram of how a reverse osmosis water filtration system works. CONTRIBUTED
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Diagram of how a reverse osmosis water filtration system works. CONTRIBUTED

Reverse osmosis systems have been found to be effective in most cases, particularly the models with several stages and include carbon, said Ginnny Yingling, a hydrogeologist at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

A less expensive alternative to RO that doesn’t waste as much water is a Residential PFAS Filter. It was developed by Filtra Systems, a Michigan-based company that has an office in Columbus, where the filters are made. The product resembles a refrigerator water filter system, except it connects to the water lines under the kitchen sink, said Joe Haligowski, senior vice president of marketing.

Filtra System Residential PFAS Filter/Contributed
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Filtra System Residential PFAS Filter/Contributed

Each filter costs between $90 and $127, depending on the model and connection type. They are compact, and installation takes about 10 minutes, the company said.

The system is capable of capturing at least 1,000 gallons of water at .5 gallons per minute, Haligowski said. Customers have the option of getting new filters in the mail automatically before the current one expires, he said.

Household Water Well Program Loans

A household water well program low-interest loan is currently open to owner-occupied homes located in rural areas of Ohio with a household income up to a maximum of $55,216. This loan is available for water well improvements and in home water treatment systems.

For additional information about how to qualify for the loan:

Go to https://www.glcap.org/programs/home-rehabilitation-needs/private-well-assistance/; or

Call 1-800-775-9767, or

Email Angie McConnell at ammcconnell@glcap.org.

Community Development Block Grant Funds

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are not allocated specifically for private water system replacement, but have been used in some Ohio jurisdictions for the repair and replacement of home water systems. Funds are generally limited to repair or replacement of failing systems, but have also been used for system abandonment and access to public water. Eligible applicants usually must income qualify and be owner/occupants.

CDBG Contact: Your Local Board of County Commissioners

Community Housing Improvement Program

Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) funds may be available in eligible jurisdictions. Applicants can apply for funds to address housing problems that will cover improvements to assure a safe and healthy environment, including the repair or replacement of a private water system for a home.

CHIP Contact: Your Local Board of County Commissioners

USDA - Rural Housing and Rural Utilities Programs

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding is available to property owners seeking grants or low interest loans for repair or replacement of private water systems through the Rural Housing Service program under 502 Direct Loans and 504 Repair Loans and Grants. Please contact either the state or district office below for more information.

The Rural Utilities Service also provides funds to eligible rural jurisdictions for public water projects to serve neighborhoods with a significant water supply needs (Water and Wastewater Disposal Loans and Grants).

USDA Rural Housing Service web page: https://www.rd.usda.gov/about-rd/agencies/rural-housing-service

Single Family Housing Repair Loan & Grants: https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/single-family-housing-repair-loans-grants/oh

Ohio Office Contact: (614) 255-2400

USDA Household Water Well System Grants: https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/household-water-well-system-grants

Ohio Office Contact: (614) 255-2400

Housing and Urban Development

The federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program may also be used to provide low interest loans to homeowners for the repair and rehabilitation of homes, and these costs may also be included as part of the home purchase depending on the final appraised value. Please contact the HUD office below for more information.

HUD website: https://www.hud.gov/

Cleveland: (216) 357-7900

Columbus: (614) 469-5737