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Dayton will spend millions to reduce PFAS levels in drinking water

A white and blue water tower stands nexts to a road and in front of a brown brick building.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
Dayton city water tower near the Ottawa water works

Dayton sells water to about 400,000 people in our region — making it all the more important to reduce so-called forever chemicals in that supply.

The city's current plan will likely cost $11 million.

Studies have shown increased risk of some cancers, reduced fertility and more from exposure to Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances, or PFAS. That’s why the U.S. EPA has created new drinking water standards for the chemicals that will be finalized later this year.

Dayton has worked to understand the extent of PFAS contamination in city water since 2016.

The city runs two water treatment plants — one, the Ottawa plant, has levels of PFAS above the pending U.S. EPA standards.

Dayton city commissioners reviewed three plans on Jan. 24 that would come out to nearly $11 million, according to Deputy Water Director Aaron Zonin.

The plan to reduce PFAS levels from the Ottawa Treatment Plant is to blend it with water from the Miami plant and wellfield, which have nondetectable levels of PFAS, Zonin explained.

“Overall strategy that we're trying to employ is to convey as much raw water from Miami to Ottawa to reduce those PFOS levels,” Zonin said. “We're still going to end up with end of pipe treatment at Ottawa. But anything we can do to reduce that is certainly in our favor.”

The city’s water department is also planning to expand its water quality testing lab and develop four more wells at the Miami wellfield.

"What this will get us is about 12 million gallons per day. That's about half of what we produce at Miami (wellfield) right now. So certainly it will increase our production overall," he said.

A loan from the bipartisan infrastructure law will cover the costs. It’s similar to a grant because it’s zero percent interest and principal forgiveness loan amount.

The water department is working diligently around this issue, said City Manager Shelly Dickstein at the city commissioners’ meeting last month.

“The water department does an excellent job managing this regional asset. They are proactive. They are strategic. And they take very seriously their charge of maintaining and caring for this asset that serves over 400,000 people,” she said.

The source of the PFAS chemicals is the subject of current litigation.

In 2021, the city filed a lawsuit against the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Department of Defense for allegedly failing to stop PFAS contamination in one of the city’s wellfields.

Wright-Patt officials have disputed that claim, saying the base has taken an aggressive approach to remediate PFAS.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Cell phone: 937-342-2905