Southwest Ohio city files $300 million drinking water contamination lawsuit air force base

8-11-14  --  Aerial view of the Lime treatment tanks at the City of Dayton Miami Water Treatment Plant.  Dayton draws water form The Great Miami River Buried Aquifer, but treats the water to a stricter surface water standard.   TY GREENLEES / STAFF
8-11-14 -- Aerial view of the Lime treatment tanks at the City of Dayton Miami Water Treatment Plant. Dayton draws water form The Great Miami River Buried Aquifer, but treats the water to a stricter surface water standard. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The city of Dayton filed a drinking water contamination lawsuit against Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Department of Defense on Monday for damages of up to $300 million.

The suit, filed in the Southern District of Ohio, accuses the base and the DoD of failing stop water containing a group of toxic chemicals call per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances ― or PFAS ― from flowing daily into the city’s Mad River Wellfield. The wellfield is one of several that Dayton uses to supply drinking water to more than 400,000 customers in Dayton and Montgomery County.

The contaminants impact surface water, groundwater and the soil the wellfield ― which borders the base’s Areas A and B ― according to the lawsuit. Several PFAS hotspots exist on the base, and failure to act now will cost millions of dollars, the city said in April.

ExploreDayton intends to sue Wright-Patt, says it wants to stop water contamination

“The city absolutely did not want to file this lawsuit,” Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said in a statement Monday evening. “We’ve invested more than four years trying to get (Wright-Patt) and the DoD to agree to take steps to mitigate ongoing contamination coming from the base into the city’s Mad River Wellfield and the aquifer that supplies those wells.”

As required by law, Dayton sent a formal letter to base and DoD officials in late March informing them of their intent to sue no later than May 4, unless they agree to work with the city to mitigate the contamination problem. The Air Force previously declined the arrangement ― known as a tolling agreement ― that would have allowed continued cooperative work on the contamination problem while extending the time the city has to file a lawsuit under federal law, Dickstein said in April.

It’s disappointing that DoD twice declined the city’s offer for the tolling agreement, she said Monday.

Base officials did not have a comment regarding the lawsuit Monday evening, a spokesperson said. However, the base in April disputed the city’s claims that PFAS from the installation is threatening Dayton’s drinking water supply. The groundwater near the base boundary is below the Environmental Protection Agency’s action levels, the base said at the time.

Besides, the Air Force conducts quarterly sentry well sampling to track any changing levels and regularly shares the information with the city, base officials said last month.

Dayton’s is seeking damages that range from $10 million to as much as $300 million, based on whether the DoD and Wright-Patt are willing to implement various treatment options available to them to stop the ongoing damages, according to the lawsuit.

ExploreWright-Patt disputes city’s claim that it’s threatening community’s drinking water

PFAS, dubbed “forever chemicals” for their longevity, can be found in firefighting foam, water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, waxes, polishes and some food packaging, according to the U.S. EPA. Studies suggest that exposure to the chemical might affect pregnancy, increase cholesterol levels and cause some forms of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Babies born to mothers exposed to PFAS can be exposed during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The chemicals can also decrease vaccine response in children, the CDC said.

Low levels of the contaminants were detected in 24 Southwest Ohio public water systems, including Areas A and B at Wright-Patt, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which conducted a statewide study in 2020. All but one public water system in the region ― Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center ― were below the federal recommended level of 70 parts per trillion.