Military base water safety questions remain as fight for study continues

Congressman says release of study is a public health and safety issue.


A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers have called on the U.S. EPA leader to release a chemical pollution study that reportedly shows lower threshold levels for groundwater contamination that could impact more than a hundred military bases, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but the head of the agency said he doesn’t have the authority to release the study.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, in his own letter this month, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from California to Massachusetts in a separate letter, urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to release the study after Politico, citing newly released emails, reported the White House and the EPA had sought to block the public release of the U.S. Health and Human Services report because “it would cause a public relations nightmare.”

But in a response to Turner’s letter and the other congressional leaders, Pruitt wrote this week the Health and Human Services agency had the right to release the research findings, but “the EPA does not have the authority to release this study.”

Turner now has urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar to release the report.

RELATED: Turner urges EPA administrator to release chemical pollution study

Chemical substances known as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been found in the groundwater at Wright-Patterson and near a Dayton firefighting training site on McFadden Avenue. The material, commonly found in many household items, also was found in an old formula of firefighting foam sprayed at both sites.

Authorities say the water in the Dayton distribution system is safe to drink, and the substances have not been found in water delivered to consumers.

“Administrator Pruitt’s letter made it clear that the EPA is not currently blocking the release of the study on PFAS, although it did not indicate whether it had sought to block this release previously,” Turner said in a statement.

“The release of this study is a public health and safety issue for every community with a military installation, including mine,” Turner, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, wrote to Azar. The EPA has set a lifetime health advisory exposure level of 70 parts per trillion.

“If this study finds, as reported, that this is no longer an accurate level of safety for our water, Congress and our constituents need to know immediately so we can begin to address it,” Turner added.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement Wednesaday to this news outlet: “Keeping information from people about the health and safety of their water is disgraceful. The EPA and HHS must release this report immediately and work with the Air Force and the city of Dayton to ensure the water is safe.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement Wednesday: “(It’s) important to ensure EPA’s health advisories are up to date and reflect the best available science and information. The EPA and HHS should release this report immediately to ensure that the men and women serving our country, as well as our communities supporting them, are drinking clean, safe water.”

The EPA was part of a national leadership summit Tuesday that sought to address PFAS concerns around the nation. The federal agency reportedly barred some members of the press while Pruitt was speaking.

RELATED: Dayton faces two potential groundwater threats

In a May 18 letter, 13 House representatives on both sides of the political aisle from California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington state, had asked Pruitt to release the report. The lawmakers noted studies have linked the substances to cancer, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol, and fertility issues, among health concerns.

The group also sent a letter to Azar, according to U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, who was among those who co-signed the document.

“It’s a little hard for me that (Pruitt) won’t act to have the report released when he seems to have the authority to block the report,” he said Wednesday, referring to published reports. State policy makers especially could use the data to set contamination threshold levels, Kildee said.

“It ought to be out there,” he said. “We’ve seen this happen too many times.”

His district includes Flint, which has faced an ongoing drinking water crisis related to lead contamination.

The Department of Defense has identified 126 military installations that showed the chemical substances in excess of the EPA’s lifetime exposure advisory threshold where the firefighting foam was sprayed, lawmakers said.

The Health and Human Services study, known as the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “concluded that PFOS and PFOA can cause human harm at a much lower level of exposure than previously acknowledged by EPA,” the lawmakers said.

City of Dayton officials have urged Wright-Patterson to take more aggressive action to prevent tainted groundwater migrating off base and potentially threatening groundwater pumping wells along the Mad River. Base authorities say they have installed monitoring wells to track where a contamination plume is headed and have pointed to the city’s firefighting training site as a possible source of contamination.

As a precaution, the city of Dayton closed several production wells along the Mad River.

Wright-Patterson built a $2.7 million groundwater treatment plant to reopen two drinking water production wells that had been closed because they had exceeded health advisory levels.

Brown’s office said the senator will offer an amendment to an upcoming defense bill for the Air Force to reimburse the city of Dayton for costs incurred with dealing with tracking and dealing with the potential contamination.

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