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Wright-Patterson Shuts down Another Problem Well

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

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Wright-Patterson shut down a drinking water well Thursday in Area A after the Ohio EPA issued emergency orders the day prior to close the well because of contamination concerns, officials said.

The state agency's order to close the well by Thursday was the second issued to the base in less than a week. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency also ordered the base to submit an alternative water plan by June 2, and to start taking drinking water samples monthly.

"The health and well-being of our people is our number one priority," Col. Elena Oberg, installation vice commander, said in a statement. "We will work closely with the Ohio EPA to develop a long-range plan to resolve this issue."

Test results showed a contamination level of 120 parts per trillion of perfluorooctanesulfanoic acid in a well sample collected last month, according to information released Thursday by the EPA. The chemical agent, more commonly called PFOS, has been used in firefighting suppressant foam.

New U.S. EPA levels set May 19 lowered the lifetime PFOS exposure threshold to 70 parts per trillion.

Last week, a health advisory was issued for pregnant or lactating women and bottled-fed infants. The base will continue to provide bottled water to that at-risk population, base spokeswoman Marie Vanover said. Adults not covered in the advisory could drink the tap water from the well, the EPA has said.

Oberg told this newspaper this week that drinking wells had been sampled quarterly, but monthly sampling will begin starting June 1.

A plan will be in place to decontaminate affected water wells, a base official said.

"We will work with Ohio EPA and other Air Force agencies to put the system in there that will remove the contaminants from the water before we bring this well back on line," David A. Perkins, Wright-Patterson director of civil engineering, said in an interview. A timeline had not been set.

Another bad well

Last month, Wright-Patterson took another drinking well off line in Area A that had PFOS concentrations of 360 parts per trillion. That exceeded the prior threshold of 200 ppt, the EPA disclosed Thursday.

Once a sample from that well "was found to contain levels above health advisories, it was taken off line to eliminate any potential health concerns," Col. Philip Preen, commander of the 88th Aerospace Medical Squadron, said in a statement.

"There was no regulatory requirement at the time to issue a public notice because drinking water samples taken at (water taps) did not exceed any of the health advisory levels for that time frame."

The emergency order Wednesday followed the state agency issuing a directive May 20 that ordered the immediate shutdown of the additional contaminated well in Area A.

Base officials had said civil engineers were assessing the impact closing the well would have on operations and fire protection, and expected to issue recommendations by the end of this week.

Four other drinking wells serve more than 16,500 military personnel, civilian employees and residents in Area A, which includes Air Force Materiel Command headquarters, Wright-Patterson Medical Center, and base housing units. Patients at the base hospital have been using bottled water since the water advisory was issued last Friday, a spokeswoman said.

"After we did our analysis, we made a determination that we'd be fine with the remaining wells that are online," Perkins said Thursday. "Even though we might see a slight pressure reduction we should have plenty of firefighting capacity to handle any fire."

EPA concerns

In a May 25 letter to base leadership, Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler outlined additional concerns about the response from base officials to the EPA's directive.

In the letter, Butler said the respondent had not provided updated sampling results of PFOS and PFOA concentrations in Area A drinking water wells. The EPA also claimed the respondent "has not responded to phone calls or emails in a timely manner and has not provided contact information for an individual with the authority to make decisions and implement responses in an emergency."

Heidi Greismer, an Ohio EPA spokeswoman, said in an email Thursday that "multiple staff" at Wright-Patterson "were not responding to Ohio EPA."

Vanover said from the EPA's initial notification May 20 through Thursday, "emails and phone calls have been exchanged daily at both the working level and leadership level."

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