Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has asked the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the city of Dayton to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) linked to military installations that are contaminating the drinking water of millions of Ohioans.

In an Aug. 27 letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Gov. DeWine says more “expedient and preventative” measures must be taken to address the water contamination problem, which largely stems from past Wright Patterson Air Force Base operations.

Contamination crisis

military family 375x210 Ohio asks Defense Department to help tackle PFAS water contaminationStarting in the 1970s, the base has used firefighting foams containing PFAS to extinguish petroleum-based fires and for training purposes. Chemicals released onto the ground or into the stormwater drainage systems follow a natural gradient from Wright-Patterson via the Mad River, which feeds the Great Buried Valley Aquifer, a source of drinking water for 2.3 million people in west and southwest Ohio, including more than 400,000 residents of the Dayton Metropolitan Area.

In August 2018, Dayton’s Water Department sampled drinking water sources for PFAS and found levels of the chemicals exceeded the EPA’s recommended health advisory level. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s extensive network of monitoring wells also detected “plumes of PFAS compounds on Base property that are migrating downgradient towards Dayton’s Mad River,” the Governor’s letter said.

Last year, the National Defense Authorization Act was revised to allow state governors to request that the Secretary of Defense direct DOD installations to enter into cooperative agreements to address the PFAS water contamination issues throughout the U.S.

A year ago, Gov. DeWine called for the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Health to develop a statewide PFAS action plan to identify the extent of PFAS chemicals in Ohio’s drinking water systems statewide.

“Forever” chemicals

According to Cleveland.com, the Environmental Working Group reports that PFAS chemicals have been found in the drinking water of Cleveland Heights, Struthers, and other Ohio communities and on military bases including Camp Ravenna and Wright Patterson.

The organization also says that as of July 2010, PFAS chemicals have been detected in more than 2,230 locations in 49 states. It estimates that more than 100 million Americans are drinking PFAS-contaminated water.

PFAS chemicals, also called “forever” chemicals because of their inability to break down in the environment, are a family of thousands of chemicals used to make water-, grease- and stain-repellent coatings for a spectrum of consumer goods and industrial applications. The chemicals are notoriously persistent in the environment and the human body, and some have been linked to serious health hazards.

PFOA and PFOS toxicity

Two of the most toxic PFAS chemicals are PFOA, which DuPont used to make Teflon, and PFOS, used by 3M in its Scotchgard formula. While PFOA and PFOS were phased out of use because of their toxicity and serious health risks, scientific evidence indicates that the next-generation chemical being used as a replacement may be every bit as toxic.

PFAS chemicals have been linked to multiple health problems, including cancer of the kidney, liver, pancreas, and testicles; endocrine disruption, increased cholesterol, weakened immunity in children; low birth weight; and weight gain in children and dieting adults.

Toxic Exposure

Beasley Allen lawyers in our Toxic Torts Section work to protect people and property from toxic chemicals and environmental pollution that results from negligence and wrongful conduct. Our lawyers are currently investigating water contamination as a result of PFC chemicals. If you have any questions, contact Rhon Jones, Rick Stratton, or Ryan Kral, lawyers in the Section. We often represent state and municipal governments in litigation of this type.

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