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More than 100 Ohio water systems contaminated with toxic ‘forever chemicals’

  • More than 100 Ohio water systems contaminated with toxic ‘forever chemicals’

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Newly released test data from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency show that more than 100 public water systems in the state are contaminated with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

The results, from statewide tests begun last February, show that 106 water systems had detectable levels of PFAS chemicals either in groundwater wells or drinking water. Concentrations of individual PFAS chemicals reported in tap water samples ranged from 5 parts per trillion, or ppt, to 140 ppt.

Neither Ohio nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have set legally enforceable limits for PFAS in public water systems. Several of the detections in Ohio exceed limits for PFAS set by other states, which range from 6 ppt to 20 ppt for either individual or combined PFAS chemicals.

Independent studies, endorsed by EWG, have recommended drinking water limits of 1 ppt for PFAS – a family of thousands of chemicals, some of which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, reduced effectiveness of vaccines, reproductive harms and other health hazards. The Ohio EPA test results add to the more than 2,200 PFAS contamination sites nationwide previously documented by EWG from state, federal and military records.

“Whenever states look for PFAS, they find contaminated water supplies,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG. “The new test results from Ohio underscore how pervasive PFAS contamination is in drinking water throughout the country. Ohio and the U.S. EPA should act swiftly to protect the public by regulating PFAS in drinking water, protecting drinking water sources with more stringent regulations on industrial discharges of PFAS, and cleaning up contaminated sites.”

One untreated groundwater sample from a water system in Little Hocking, Ohio, contained 2,500 ppt of PFOA, a PFAS chemical formerly used to make Teflon. Little Hocking is directly across the Ohio River from the Chemours Washington Works Plant, in Parkersburg, W.V.

The Chemours plant, previously owned by DuPont, discharged PFOA into the Ohio River for decades and was recently the subject of a major motion picture, “Dark Waters,” starring actor and activist Mark Ruffalo and based on the real-life story of attorney Rob Bilott’s 20-year fight against DuPont’s contamination of the drinking water around Parkersburg.

Prompted by Bilott’s battle and the resulting pressure from the U.S. EPA, DuPont agreed to phase out the use of PFOA by 2015. But the Ohio EPA sampling shows that years later, groundwater in the area remains highly contaminated. Newly released test data from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency show that more than 100 public water systems in the state are contaminated with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

Ohio’s testing program included both community water systems as well as systems serving specific locations, such as a day care and an educational center. The test results likely undercount the number of drinking water systems affected by PFAS, because detection limits set by the state were from 5 ppt to 25 ppt.

Industrial uses of PFAS are a major source of contamination of drinking water sources. EWG has identified more than 2,500 industrial sites that are likely sources of PFAS pollution, including carpet and textile manufacturers, paper mills and chrome plating facilities. PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down readily in the environment.

To adequately protect Ohioans, EWG urges the state of Ohio to limit discharges from industrial users of the compounds, conduct more tests and set its own legal limits for PFAS in drinking water. Health officials in Ohio could model what Michigan’s did to address PFAS contamination, which was to pilot an industrial pretreatment program that reduced PFAS discharges by as much as 99 percent.

At the federal level, the EPA and the incoming Biden-Harris administration should take steps to limit industrial emissions of PFAS nationwide, finalize a drinking water standard for PFAS chemicals and require cleanup of legacy PFAS pollution.

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