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Ohio EPA: Trumbull drinking water has small amounts of toxic 'forever chemicals'

PFAS are called 'forever chemicals' because they don't break down naturally. They're found in common household items like nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn.
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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Following reports that toxic “forever chemicals” were found in about one-third of water samples taken across Pennsylvania since mid-2019, Mahoning Matters’ review of Ohio testing efforts found small amounts of contamination in southern Trumbull County.

About one-third of the 412 Pennsylvania sites sampled were found to be contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, the Associated Press reported on Friday. Of those positive detections, only two were above the U.S. EPA’s health advisory limit, which is 70 parts per trillion, or PPT.

The highly toxic chemicals are found in numerous common household items like nonstick cookware, microwave popcorn, carpets and disposable food containers. Studies have found the chemicals may be connected to certain forms of cancer, higher cholesterol or pregnancy risks, according to the CDC.

They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally and can persist in the environment indefinitely, according to the Associated Press. Rainwater runoff can move PFAS into lakes or ponds or cause it to seep into soil and reach underground water sources, according to the EPA.

The CDC estimates most Americans already have some form of PFAS in their blood.

Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019 called for PFAS testing in public drinking water systems across the state. The testing of about 1,550 sites, completed late last year, found detectable levels of PFAS at 6 percent of those sites — about 90. Today, there are about 60 sites with detectable levels of PFAS, mostly along the state’s southwestern and southeastern borders, but also including two in Trumbull County.

Statewide, analysis found PFAS above the EPA’s limit in samples at just two sites, one of which has since been remediated, according to the Ohio EPA. View the full map of test results here.

PFAS were below the EPA’s action limit at both of the Trumbull County sites, however.

Early May surface water sampling at the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District’s Meander Creek facility just north of Meander Creek Reservoir found perfluorooctanesulfonic acid — or PFOS, a chemical used to treat fabric — at nearly 11 PPT. The EPA limit is 70 PPT. That sample also contained perfluorohexanesulfonic acid — or PFHxS, found in firefighting foam and food packaging — at 5.6 PPT. The EPA limit is 140 PPT.

That water system isn’t used by the community. The other site is, however.

Early February surface water sampling from the City of Newton Falls’ public water system found perfluorobutanesulfonic acid — or PFBS, a water and grease repellent — at 185 PPT. The EPA limit is 140,000 PPT. The city’s water tested at 75 PPT in January, WKBN reported — so PFBS levels have more than doubled since then.

Newton Falls City Manager David Lynch told WKBN in January he believed the contamination came from the city’s water source, the Mahoning River.

The Newton Falls testing site is also just southeast of Ravenna’s Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Center. PFAS contamination has been traced to military bases, including two sites in Pennsylvania, but also from fire training sites, landfills and factories, according to the AP.

Since at least 2006, federally regulated airports including Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Center have been required to use military-specification aqueous film-forming foams, or AFFF, which are used as a fire suppressant and have been found to be a significant source of PFAS.

A federal lawsuit filed in April by Aqua Ohio Inc. against 3M Company and DuPont — two of the largest users of PFAS chemicals — alleges the fire-fighting foam is a likely source of the PFAS contaminating its water systems.

That case has since been moved to a federal court in South Carolina.

Jeff LaRue, Aqua Ohio spokesperson, told Mahoning Matters the cost of removing such chemicals from its systems “would be extreme” — “they’re called ‘forever chemicals,’” he said.

The company is closely monitoring research into PFAS, he added.

The Ohio EPA this week sought clarification on an environmental remediation plan for the YARS site, submitted last year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as the plan did not appear to address possible PFAS contamination at the site.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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