Wright Patt responds to city demands for quicker action on groundwater issue

2:09 p.m Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 News
Ty Greenlees
The city of Dayton is demanding the Air Force act more urgently to prevent the potential of groundwater contamination from the base to the city’s Huffman Dam well field along the Mad River. In this photo, ice flows down the Great Miami River, right at the confluence with the Mad River at Deeds Point. TY GREENLEES/STAFF

Wright-Patterson officials say they have reacted with urgency to concerns over tainted groundwater despite the city of Dayton’s demands asking for additional action to prevent the potential threat of groundwater contamination reaching the Huffman Dam well field.

But if upcoming expanded testing this summer determines a tainted groundwater plume is migrating off site, the Air Force will take additional actions, Wright-Patterson officials say. Groundwater on the base is believed to have been tainted by a contaminant in firefighting foam.

City, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Wright-Patterson officials say the drinking water is safe.

RELATED: 3 things to know about Dayton, Wright-Patt and drinking water

“City leadership has requested the Air Force take urgent action and I can assure the Dayton community that we already have,” Col. Bradley W. McDonald, base commander, said in a statement. “…We are doing everything we can, and as quickly as we can, to ensure that all of our drinking water is safe.”

The city did not immediately issue a public response to Wright-Patterson’s comments.

Earlier this month, the city of Dayton sent a letter to McDonald demanding the base take a series of actions beyond testing to prevent contamination of the Huffman Dam well field along the Mad River.

The city shut down seven production drinking water wells as a precaution in April 2017.

RELATED: Dayton demands Wright-Patt act on groundwater concerns

But the city also disclosed this month that it closed five production wells three miles away at the Tait’s Hill well field near the city of Dayton’s firefighting training center on McFadden Avenue off Springfield Street.

The city says monitoring wells at that Mad River location detected contamination of up to 1,260 parts per trillion of polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS),which was found in an old formula of the firefighting foam. The U.S. EPA has set a health advisory threshold of 70 parts per trillion for lifetime exposure in drinking water.

For the first time, the city detected less than 10 parts per trillion of the contaminant last November at its Ottawa water treatment plant.

RELATED: Wright-Patt treating tainted water in contaminated drinking wells

Dayton has asked for the support of neighboring communities to pressure Wright-Patterson to take action more quickly on concerns tied to the Huffman well field. The city also has asked the Air Force for nearly $1 million to defray the costs of environmental studies and testing related to Huffman well field concerns.

Among the demands Dayton has issued to Wright-Patterson: Install additional monitoring wells along the base boundary; relocate a Mad River storm water discharge point by about 200 feet so it won’t flow past a city intake; and sharing water data so the city can plan how to respond.

For more than two years, Wright-Patterson has addressed tainted groundwater concerns, base officials say.

Among the actions the base cited: Identifying where the firefighting foam was sprayed at training and crash sites on base; testing soil and groundwater for contamination and tracking possible pathways for tainted groundwater to migrate on and off base; temporarily shutting down two drinking water wells in 2016 that exceeded EPA advisory thresholds; and building a $2.7 million water treatment facility to resume pumping from those closed wells last June.

RELATED: Dayton urges communities to push Wright-Patt for action on water

Wright-Patterson is replacing the old firefighting foam with a newer version officials have said is environmentally friendlier.

The Air Force investigation and mitigation efforts “are in full compliance” with state and federal laws, the base said in a statement.

“To ensure a comprehensive investigation into potential threats to community drinking water, the Air Force encouraged the city to investigate whether civilian fire training centers are impacting drinking water well fields and treatment plants,” the statement added.

Ohio EPA has ordered both Wright-Patterson and the city of Dayton to take action on the groundwater contamination.

PFAS 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.