Potentially dangerous chemical compounds detected for the first time in area drinking water prompted Dayton and Montgomery County to notify their customers. The discovery also prompted a warning from an independent expert.
“I would say it’s something for the people and for the city to start to pay attention to, and to keep paying attention to,” said Rita Loch-Caruso, a professor of toxicology in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan.
Dayton supplies water for about 400,000 people to drink, including those in the city and those in other Montgomery County areas who get their water through Dayton.
The city and the county are notifying users about the presence of polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) after testing of treated water leaving the city’s Ottawa Water Treatment Plant in March detected PFAS at a level of 7 to 13 parts per trillion, or ppt.
Officials stress that level is significantly below the EPA health advisory limit of 70 ppt for lifetime exposure, but it marks the first time PFAS have been detected in water after the treatment process.
Loch-Caruso, also a professor of environmental health, said that if she lived in Dayton, “I’d pay attention.”
PFAS are in a substance once used as a firefighting foam at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and at the Dayton Fire Training Center, 200 McFadden Ave. The chemical has infiltrated groundwater and prompted the shutdown of multiple Dayton water wells as a precaution.
“We certainly don’t know everything there is to know about PFAS, and PFAS are a difficult group of chemicals to study because there are so many variations of them,” Loch-Caruso said.
She said it’s too soon to recommend buying new household water filtration systems as a precautionary measure. She said similar levels of PFAS have been found in Ann Arbor drinking water, where she lives, and she has not purchased a filtration system.
“It certainly is low,” she said.
“I would like to see my city doing regular monitoring and publishing the results of the concentrations,” Loch-Caruso said. “I would like to see a plan for monitoring — how is the city going to watch this?”
Michael Powell, director of the city of Dayton Water Department, said Wednesday the city has monitored the situation and will continue to test concentration levels.
“I drink it every day,” Powell said of Dayton’s water.
One part per trillion is comparable to finding one grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Powell said.
The discovered concentration levels “are right on the edge of the detection levels that the latest tests are able to detect,” he said.
In fact, they are so low, the levels are labeled by testing labs as “estimated,” he said.
Joe Tuss, Montgomery County administrator, said county leaders will work to coordinate with Dayton to make sure testing protocols are consistent.
“As the entity that has the community asset that is the well fields and water treatment facilities, we want to make sure we are working in concert with the city and certainly making sure they are taking the lead in any activities around this whole PFAS issue,” Tuss said.
“This is something that is really a relatively new issue for water systems around the country,” he added, saying he believes it started to emerge in 2014. “So this is a relatively new phenomenon.”
The city of Kettering is among Montgomery County’s most populous water customers, with nearly 20,000 residential water accounts and nearly 1,900 non-residential accounts.
Mark Schwieterman, Kettering city manager, said his city has been working with Dayton and the county for months on the issue. Dayton officials also assured Kettering that concentration levels were found to be low.
“We were assured the city of Dayton was working on that and would keep us informed,” Schwieterman said.
An eastern section of Harrison Township is located within the area wellfield protection area, said Kris McClintick, Harrison Twp. administrator
Earlier this year, Dayton officials asked the township to draft a letter to the Air Force expressing concerns about contamination thought to be originating at Wright-Patterson. McClintick said that letter was sent.
“We have worked with the city of Dayton for over 20 years to help protect this precious resource and educate our residents and businesses located within the … area,” McClintick said.
Dave Loveday, director of government affairs for the Water Quality Association — an international trade association that represents the water treatment industry, both manufacturers and dealers — said local households might consider some kind of filtration system.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about these types of chemicals,” Loveday said. “It’s something we call an ‘emerging contaminant.’”
Carbon filters, ion exchange filters, reverse osmosis filter systems are all systems that households can buy, he said.
“I don’t want this to be a scare tactic,” Loveday said, but he said he would recommend a filtration system.