Wright-Patterson Yet to Decide if it Will Shut Down Contaminated Wells

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base expects to decide by the end of the week whether or not it will comply with an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency order to shut down a drinking water well because of contamination concerns, a base spokeswoman said Monday.

EPA instructed Wright-Patterson to issue a health advisory notice Friday urging an alternative water source for infants, and pregnant or lactating women. The base distributed between 2,000 to 2,500 bottles of water over the weekend to those affected, a spokeswoman said.

Wright-Patterson "will not face penalties" if it does not take the drinking well offline, Heidi Griesmer, the agency's deputy director of communications, said in an email Monday. However, she added, it "will not be able to lift the drinking water advisory until they have monitoring data that shows that the (contamination) levels have decreased to below the health advisory level."

Civil engineers were assessing the impact if the well that serves Area A is closed and will recommend what action the installation commander, Col. John M. Devillier, should pursue, base spokeswoman Marie Vanover said Monday. Area A includes Air Force Materiel Command headquarters, the base's hospital, housing units and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. She said some 16,500 people either work or live in Area A.

"We anticipate a decision by the end of the week," she said in an email.

Wright-Patterson has four other wells in Area A that provide water. Base officials were concerned how one less well would impact fire suppression and the need for water in industrial uses, Vanover said

The state EPA issued a directive to Wright-Patterson on Friday to immediately shut down the well in Area A, because it exceeded a newly set federal threshold for perfluorooctane sulfanate, or PFOS, which is a chemical agent in a fire suppressant foam, the agency said. Samples collected in April at two wells showed a level of 110 parts per trillion of PFOS, above the new lifetime threshold of 70 parts per trillion the federal EPA set last week. One of the wells was not in use.

By taking the operating drinking well offline, Ohio EPA hopes the action will eliminate the contamination. "We're asking them to take it offline pretty much for the foreseeable future," Griesmer said in an interview.

After two weeks, the base can sample the drinking well water again to see if it falls within the threshold limits, she said. PFOS is one of a mixture of perflourinated compounds in a fire fighting foam, EPA said. A sample showed the contaminant perfluorooctanoic acid, or a man-made chemical also called PFOA, in the well taken offline, but at three parts per trillion it was below threshold levels, Griesmer said.

Adults, other than those listed for the health advisory, could continue to drink tap water, according to EPA.

The base will continue to distribute bottled water between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at Fire Station No. 1 on Skeel Avenue, Vanover said.

The Wright-Patterson Medical Center was giving bottled water to patients and to prepare food, the base has said. The EPA directive does not impact Area B, which includes the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters, officials said.

U.S. EPA has indicated PFOS can have adverse health effects on fetuses and and bottle-fed infants.

Based on epidemiological studies of human populations exposed to perfluoroalkyl substances and lab studies of rats and mice, PFOS and PFOAs over certain levels in fetuses and breast-fed infants may result in low birth weight, cancer, liver damage and adverse impacts on the body's immune system and thyroid, according to U.S. EPA information.

In the directive to Wright-Patterson, Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler urged the base to sample remaining water production wells monthly in Area A since the source of the contamination has not been found.

Vanover said people with questions about the water advisory should contact the base public affairs office at 937-522-3252.

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