LIMA — An old chemical has gained new attention as federal regulators and legislators weigh new findings that link the non-degradable compound with higher incidences of cancer and endocrine-related issues.
Per- and polyfluoroalklyl substances, or PFAS, have been used in various industrial applications and consumer products since the 1940s, but today, the family of chemicals is receiving heightened scrutiny as researchers find that the chemical is more widespread and more dangerous than initially believed.
Data released by the Environmental Working Group in 2019 tracks at least 1,398 sites throughout 49 states that have seen PFAS in the water supply. Lima is included on that list due to an earlier surface test of reservoir water that found traces of the chemical.
Mayor David Berger said testing of that water source has since been repeated, and subsequent results have been unable to confirm the original findings.
“It could have been air deposition, literally floated in on the air and ended up in the water,” Berger said. “Subsequent to that test, we decided to conduct additional tests. Because the amount was so minute, we thought it could have been a contamination in the lab. We did follow up testing with two different labs — of the raw supply and the post treatment supply — and we found it nowhere.”
Berger said he knows of one source of PFAS in the local area. The Shawnee Fire Department is equipped with PFAS-based firefighting foam to deal with any unexpected fires at local industrial and chemical plants in the township. Testing agencies have found the chemical in higher trace amounts where the foam is used.
Due to the chemical’s use throughout Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine has since directed the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Health to undertake further testing in order to get a better understanding of PFAS contamination in water sources throughout the state.
Test sites include water sources close to locations where PFAS is used, such as manufacturing facilities and firefighting training sites.
The State of Michigan started a similar initiative in April 2018. As a result, the state has since announced its intention to sue 17 corporate makers of the chemical, such as DuPont and 3M, for allegedly hiding information about the chemical’s toxicity from the public.
Such companies also face a class action lawsuit from an Ohio fire chief, who blames the use of the PFAS-based firefighting foam as the reason behind PFAS getting into his bloodstream. Unlike other chemicals, PFAS is retained in the body and often accumulates over time due its non-degradable nature.
Adverse health effects associated with PFAS include an increased risk of cancer, hormonal disruptions, affects on immune systems, changes in liver functions and increased cholesterol livers. Research details on the chemical’s toxicity, however, are still limited.
On the federal level, Sen. Sherrod Brown is pushing for the EPA to be more productive in tackling the issue. During a conference call Wednesday, Brown encouraged the passage of the PFAS Action Act, a House-passed bill that sets safety standards for PFAS and creates a federal grant remedial program to help communities dealing with PFAS pay for water infrastructure upgrades.
“If we find the extent of exposure that we expect to find, the cost is huge,” Brown said.
Locally, the City of Lima has already carried the burden of such cost upgrades when it installed a granular activated carbon filtration system at the city’s wastewater treatment plant a decade ago. The move effectively ensures that PFAS stays out of the drinking water even if it ends up in the reservoir, Berger said.
“You can be rest assured if we had PFAS in our water, it couldn’t get through the treatment plant because we have a granular activated filter,” Lima Utilities Director Mike Caprella said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.