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Fairborn sues forever chemical manufacturers

Fairborn Government Center

The City of Fairborn is suing 32 chemical manufacturers for allegedly contaminating one of the city's back-up wells with "forever chemicals."

"Forever chemicals,” or PFAS, are extremely difficult to break down because of their strong chemical bonds, so they can end up sticking around for a long time in the water, in the soil, and in the human body.

PFAS are used in a range of things—like firefighting foam that smothers high-heat fuel fires, anti-stick pots and pans, dental floss, and as a water-proofing agent for some furniture.

The chemicals have been linked to cancer and developmental problems in infants and children.

Rob Anderson, Fairborn's city manager, emphasized in an interview with WYSO that traceable levels of PFAS were only found in one of the city's back-up wells. Forever chemicals were not found in the drinking water wells that provide water to the city's some 40,000 residents.

"But we don't know what the future holds," Anderson said. "If there's more contamination that happens, if it makes its way into our primary well-field, we want to be in a position to make the manufacturer of this material pay."

The City of Dayton also filed a lawsuit against forever chemical manufacturers for contaminating their city's wells in 2018.

Dupont and 3M are the most recognizable companies listed in the suits.

Here's what 3M Community Engagement and Public Relations Specialist Grant Thompson said: "3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS - including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) - and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship." Dupont did not respond to WYSO's request for comment.

AFFF is the industry name for firefighting foam that's used to suppress high-heat jet fuel fires at airports. It contains a lot of PFAS. AFFF was used at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and PFAS has been found in drinking water wells in and around the base.

But the City of Fairborn, which is adjacent to the base, is unwilling to say Wright Patt. is the source of the contamination.

"I want people to realize is that we're not doing anything to cause harm to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This lawsuit does not include them. We are not pointing a finger at Wright Patterson," City Manager Anderson said. "We love and appreciate our relationship and our proximity to them. We work well with Wright Patt. and so we're doing this really to protect our systems and be proactive. Bu there's no danger to our water and we're not doing anything, hopefully, to adversely impact Wright Patt."

Dayton, on the other hand, filed a drinking water contamination lawsuit against Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Department of Defense last year.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.