Ohio EPA orders Dayton to take action on groundwater concerns

The Ohio EPA and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base only learned this month that test results showed the city of Dayton’s firefighter training center on McFadden Avenue was a potential source of groundwater contamination, state and base officials say.

The disclosure comes as the city is trying to pressure Wright-Patterson to act more quickly on preventing contamination to city water supplies.

Dayton has asked the Air Force for nearly $1 million to reimburse costs for environmental testing and studies to track the contamination, which the city believes is caused by firefighting foam contaminants on the base. The city is worried the contamination will impact the Huffman Dam well field, which is about a half mile away from Wright-Patterson.

Base officials did not know until earlier this week that the city has had concerns about contamination from its firefighting training center, base spokeswoman Marie Vanover said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says it was also unaware of the contamination levels. The EPA says it only learned at a meeting with the city on Feb. 16 that sampling results in monitoring wells at the Tait’s Hill well field showed high levels of a substance known as perfluoroakyl substance (PFAS), a contaminant found in an old formula of aqueous film-forming foam that was used as a fire-fighting retardant.

PFAS substances are also found in consumer products from clothing to cookware.

The Tait’s Hill well field, which is adjacent to the city’s firefighting training center at 200 McFadden Avenue, is part of the much larger Mad River well field, which supplies water to a broad section of the region.

Both the EPA and the city say the water distributed to customers is safe.

Until the Feb. 16 meeting, the EPA believed Wright-Patterson was the “only known source” of contamination caused from firefighting foam contaminants in the Mad River well field, according to Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler.

The EPA this week ordered the city to track and mitigate potential contamination from the firefighting training center and determine the source of a small level of PFAS contamination at the city’s Ottawa treatment plant in the Mad River well field.

RELATED: Dayton urges communities to push Wright-Patt for action on waterPFAS contamination, at certain levels, can cause major health concerns. According to the U.S. EPA, human epidemiology and animal testing studies indicate high-level exposure to the contaminant may lead to testicular and liver cancer; changes in cholesterol; low birth weight in newborns; liver tissue damage; and effects on the immune system and thyroid.

The retardant that produces PFAS was sprayed at both Wright-Patterson and Dayton’s firefighting training center.

The city has been meeting with base officials over water contamination for roughly two years. In a Feb. 7 letter, the city asked local communities to join with it to pressure Wright-Patterson and the Air Force to act more quickly to prevent the potential contamination of Huffman Dam production wells closed last April. Dayton sent a second letter two weeks later notifying city managers in the region about concerns tied to the Dayton firefighting training center. 

Michael Powell, the city’s water department director, said in an email that Dayton will meet all the requirements the EPA demands and attributed the delay in telling the state about sampling results to an “internal miscommunication.”

The city closed drinking water wells at the Tait’s Hill well field next to the training center about two years ago. A May 2017 test for PFAS detected in groundwater monitoring wells at the well field found at least one sample registered 1,260 parts per trillion, according to the city.

RELATED: Dayton: Contaminated sites could pose risk to Mad River well fieldsThe U.S. EPA has set a health advisory threshold level of 70 parts per trillion for lifetime exposure to drinking water.

In a Feb. 21 letter that the EPA’s Butler sent to Dayton, the director wrote the state agency was “disappointed” the city had not shared the information with the state about sampling results at the fire training center before mid-February. The letter does say EPA officials are confident Dayton officials will act to address the contamination.

“It is more critical than ever that Dayton be more forthright with the sampling results and data as this investigation progresses to ensure Dayton’s drinking water is protected,” Butler wrote.

RELATED: 3 things to know about Dayton, Wright-Patt and drinking waterIn his email, Powell said the city shut down the production wells at Tait’s Hill prior to the water sampling because of how close it was to the firefighting training center.

“Two sampling events were subsequently conducted by Division of Environmental Management staff, but the City’s management was not aware they had been done until last Monday,” the email says. “As soon as City management became aware of the data, we notified Ohio EPA and met with them to review the information. We now have a process in place to prevent this internal miscommunication from occurring in the future.”

The closed production wells at Huffman and Tait’s Hill have not yet been sampled, acccording to the city.

RELATED: Dayton demands Wright-Patt act on groundwater concernsWright-Patt spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in an email the base continues to study the extent of contamination and is committed to identify and mitigate any groundwater contamination that resulted from activities on base.

“We will continue to evaluate potential impacts to the drinking water and will work with our local and state partners to develop defensible work plans to do so,” the email says. “The Air Force is committed to protecting human health and the environment and we are working aggressively to ensure our installation and supporting communities have access to safe drinking water. “

RELATED: Wright-Patt treating tainted drinking waterDayton officials say they detected less than 10 parts per trillion in the raw water intake of the Ottawa water treatment facility. The substance has not been detected in treated water, city officials say.

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