Dayton has called on neighboring communities to send a message to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to more urgently resolve concerns over the potential threat of contamination of a drinking water aquifer from tainted groundwater.
The city has urged city managers to join it in signing a letter asking the base’s commander to act quickly prior to groundwater contaminated with a byproduct of firefighting foam reaches seven city drinking water wells shut down as a precaution in April at Huffman Dam near the base boundary along the Mad River.
So far, some communities have said they will not sign the letter, at least one has endorsed Dayton’s efforts while others say they are studying the problem and weighing options.
Dayton and state officials have said drinking water is safe today.
The city has pursued communities backing while asking the Air Force to reimburse Dayton nearly $1 million for an environmental study and testing tied to concerns tainted groundwater at Wright-Patterson could reach the Huffman Dam well field.
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“This was always about getting the attention above Wright-Patterson Air Force Base leadership where the decisions are made for resource allocation to address contamination,” City Manager Shelley Dickstein said in an interview. “Because there are hundreds of these (contamination sites) across the country, our primary goal was and continues to be the squeakiest wheel because of the proximity of the aquifer and well fields.”
The city reported it discovered polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the raw water intake of its Ottawa water treatment facility near the Mad River last November. The contamination level was less than 10 parts per trillion, below the Environmental Protection Agency health advisory threshold of 70 parts per trillion for lifetime exposure in drinking water, city officials have said.
The substance has not been detected in treated water in the distribution system, city leaders have said.
Communities react to Dayton plea
Kettering, Centerville, Miamisburg and Vandalia officials have said they will not support Dickstein’s request in a Feb. 7 letter she sent to city managers. Moraine also indicated it has not co-signed the document, and Riverside and Miami Twp. indicated no immediate plans to act on the letter.
City Council leaders in Brookville, a direct water customer of Dayton water, voted Tuesday to go on record supporting Dayton’s efforts, and will send a letter to water customers updating them about the water issue, according to City Manager Gary Burkholder.
Fairborn and Clayton city managers say they need more time to gather information.
“We certainly want to understand what we are signing on to before we agree to do that,” said Fairborn City Manager Rob Anderson. The city indicated in a 2015 test it did not find polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in firefighting foam in its groundwater field north of Wright-Patterson’s main flight line.
Montgomery County Environmental Services purchases water from Dayton and distributes it to communities across the area, including the cities of Centerville, Clayton, Kettering, Moraine, Riverside and Trotwood and the townships of Butler, Harrison, Jefferson, Miami and Washington. It also sells the water wholesale to Greene County.
“From all the information I have received, I have every reason to believe our water is safe to use and drink,” Riverside City Manager Mark Carpenter said in a statement to the Dayton Daily News.
Fairborn and Miamisburg are among regional communities with their own well fields and water distribution systems. Vandalia receives most of its water from the Northern Area Water Authority, which draws water from wells in Tipp City, according to Vandalia city officials.
A Dayton official was expected to brief Clayton City Council members on the concerns March 1, according to City Manager Richard C. Rose. Clayton is a direct water customer of Dayton, along with Trotwood and Brookville.
In a statement, Kettering City Manager Mark Schwieterman said city administrators have talked about contamination issues with Dayton officials, but opted not to sign the letter “because we feel that given current information the matter would be best resolved by the two parties directly involved.”
Centerville City Manager Wayne Davis said in an email the suburb won’t co-sign the letter “since the issue was initially raised by the City of Dayton and is a matter between the City of Dayton and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
Pressure to act
The proposed letter to Wright-Patterson commander Col. Bradley McDonald said a “lack of action” to protect Huffman Dam drinking water wells was “unacceptable,” while the Air Force continues to conduct tests, rather than act.
“By doing so, you are jeopardizing the health of more than three million people who rely on clean, safe and untainted water when they turn on their faucets,” it said. “We are demanding that you take immediate steps to stop the flow of PFAS from the Base and into our water supply. We can no longer wait until you have more results before you act to protect our communities.”
Wright-Patterson spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in an email the base was not aware of the letter and was preparing to respond to Dayton’s demands to take action.
Jeff Hoagland, chief executive officer of the Dayton Development Coalition, said he was “surprised” Dayton sent the Feb. 7 letter to municipal leaders since city and base authorities have worked on the issue over two years.
The two sides met at DDC headquarters in downtown Dayton last August, he said.
“We walked out of there knowing the No. 1 topic was to properly address the water issues,” Hoagland said.
“The city asked us to come and see if we could listen to what was going on and see if there was anything we could do to make sure these issues were being taken care of at the highest levels,” he said.
Wright-Patterson has approached water contamination concerns “seriously,” Hoagland added.
Dayton leaders sent a suggested second letter to neighboring municipal leaders to tell customers the drinking water is safe, but also to inform water consumers about concerns for the potential of future contamination of the aquifer from polyfluroalkyl substances. The substances are found in consumer products from clothing to cookware, but were also used in industrial processes and in firefighting foam.
The U.S. EPA reported human epidemiology and animal testing studies indicate exposure to the contaminant suggest it may be responsible at certain levels for testicular and liver cancer; changes in cholesterol; low birth weight in newborns; liver tissue damage; and effects on the immune system and thyroid.
Both state and city leaders want Wright-Patterson to act faster to respond to the potential threat of reaching Huffman Dam. Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler has called the pace at which the Air Force was reacting to the situation “unacceptable.” The EPA director cited the base in recent weeks under a state public nuisance law to prevent water pollution and ordered Wright-Patterson to submit a work plan within 30 days to better track tainted groundwater and to prevent the plume reaching the Dayton well field, among expected actions.
In October 2016, Ohio EPA ordered Wright-Patterson to shut down two groundwater wells that supplied water to the base that exceeded EPA thresholds. A health advisory was issued at the time for pregnant women and breast-feeding infants, and the base provided bottled water to affected residents.
Pumping at the wells resumed after Wright-Patterson built a $2.7 million water treatment plant.
The groundwater contamination at the base was believed to have come from a discontinued formula found in a firefighting foam. The Air Force faces PFAS groundwater contamination woes at dozens of bases.
By June, Wright-Patterson expects to complete replacement of the old firefighting foam with one deemed environmentally safer, a base spokeswoman has said.