WILMINGTON — Very low levels of legacy chemicals have been detected in Wilmington water, city officials learned Thursday.
Ohio EPA, as part of an ongoing state-wide examination of every drinking water facility, tested for six types of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds.
The sampling of Wilmington’s water occurred in July, and EPA notified the city Thursday that two of the six types of compounds were detected in Wilmington water, according to a news release from the city. The detected compounds are known as PFOS and PFHxS and are well below Ohio EPA’s Action Level for these chemicals.
PFAS chemicals have been used for decades in everyday items such as food packaging, nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, and personal care products. These compounds have also been widely used in firefighting foams at military installations and fire training facilities.
City Water Protection Coordinator Travis Luncan said, “The vast majority of PFAS exposure people experience come from things other than drinking water. But we are committed to ensuring our drinking water does not continue to be a source of PFAS.”
The compounds are most likely a legacy of the former military operations at the Wilmington Air Park.
Rick Schaffer, Public Works Director, stated, “Some PFAS compounds don’t break down and have become pervasive throughout the environment. They are probably in the sediment of Indian Run and Cowan Creek, which are used to fill the City’s reservoirs at Burtonville.”
Tests for these types of chemicals were done about five years ago and none were detected in Wilmington water. The testing methods have become more sensitive since then, meaning the compounds can now be detected at levels about 10 times lower.
With the results of the most recent test being a fraction of the action levels, EPA is only requiring four more sampling events over the next year which would be used to develop an action plan to reduce contamination.
The city is being much more proactive, according to Schaffer.
“We received word of the results at about 10 a.m. Thursday, and at 1:30 we had a call with a consultant that specializes in water treatment chemicals,” Schaffer said. “Based on the discussions during the call, we are confident we can adjust our current treatment to remove these compounds from the water.”
The dosage of one of the treatment chemicals was immediately doubled with the expectation of reducing the levels.
“In the next days and weeks, we will work with the consultant to find the most cost-effective way to remove these compounds,” Schaffer said. The current construction project underway at the water plant to address algal toxins will also be useful in removing the PFAS chemicals.
“We are also investigating the feasibility of doing more testing than the EPA requires to increase our confidence in the adjusted treatment,” Schaffer said. “There are only a few laboratories in the country approved to do this type of testing, and results are slow, so some patience will be necessary.”
PFAS testing results are posted for about half of the 1,563 water utilities in Ohio. Detections have been found in about 40 water systems, including at least seven others in southwest Ohio, according to Ohio EPA data.
The results from Wilmington will be added to the site in the next 10 days or so.
PFAS chemicals are classified by the U.S. EPA as contaminants of emerging concern, meaning that research into the harm they may cause to human health is still ongoing.
Ohio EPA and Department of Health developed a website with more information on PFAS, including health-related information and steps to reduce potential exposures. The web address is pfas.ohio.gov.