A new study finds that chemical compounds in firefighting foam — like that once used at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and at the Dayton Fire Training Center — may pose more of a risk in drinking water than previously thought.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study indicates the level of polyfluoralkyl substances, or PFAS, at which health risks might be expected is startlingly close to the 7 to 13 parts per trillion recently detected in water leaving a Dayton plant.
Here are five questions answered:
1. Where the chemicals found?
The chemical compounds turned up in March at Dayton’s Ottawa Water Treatment Plant, the first time the compounds — believed to be safe when below 70 ppt for lifetime exposure — were detected in water after the treatment process.
2. Should residents be worried?
Michael Powell, director of the city of Dayton Water Department, reiterated Thursday that the public has little to fear, but said the city is stepping up testing — including trying to pinpoint the source of the compounds. The city has more than 300 monitoring wells, adding 80 in the last six months. Already, a number of wells have been shut down in fear of drawing more PFAS into the system.
3. What’s going on with Wright-Patterson’s water supply?
“Ohio believes strongly WPAFB needs to be more proactive to address PFAS at its source before this contamination can impact additional drinking water wells (either Dayton’s or WPAFB’s). Ohio EPA continues to focus on ensuring Dayton’s and WPAFB’s drinking water wells remain below the current U.S. EPA health advisory level in both water systems,” according to a statement to this news organization.
Base officials responded: “Wright-Patterson is committed to protecting human health and ensuring safe drinking water and continues to comply with Ohio EPA requirements. We expect to award a contract later this month on an expanded site inspection which will include continued quarterly sentinel well monitoring at the base boundary as well as the installation of additional monitoring wells. We will also continue to meet with the Ohio EPA and other stakeholders monthly to share analytical data.”
4. What do public officials have to say about the issue?
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, applauded the release of the draft findings Thursday, which he had pushed the administration to do.
“This is a matter of public health and safety,” Turner said in a statement. “Based on this information, I encourage federal, state, and local environmental regulators to examine whether they are appropriately communicating the risks presented by and adequately addressing the presence of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. We must ensure agencies at all levels are using the most reliable data and best available science to ensure our drinking water remains safe.”
5. What do the experts say?
Joyce Dinglasan-Panlilio, chair of the Sciences and Mathematics Division and associate professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Washington-Tacoma, said it’s difficult to say whether Dayton’s water can be considered safe or not.
“Having investigated these compounds for a long time now, I do want people to know that these are synthetic compounds that have no known natural sources,” she said in an email Thursday. “Thus, finding them in drinking water at any level should be something we take seriously.”