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‘Any level of exposure should be taken seriously’ Bellbrook sues forever chemical manufacturers

Bellbrook,_Ohio_(2021).jpg
Logan Rickert
/
Wikimedia Commons
City of Bellbrook Ohio

The City of Bellbrook has joined Dayton and Fairborn in a lawsuit against more than 30 companies that manufactured PFAS, or so-called forever chemicals. Bellbrook said those companies should pay to clean up the PFAS in the city's drinking water wells.

PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” are extremely difficult to break down so they end up sticking around for a long time in water, soil, and in the human body. PFAS are used in a bunch of things — including household products like anti-stick pans — but also in industrial firefighting foams that have historically been used at air force bases like Wright Patterson. Because of that, almost everyone in the world already has PFAS chemicals in their blood but additional exposure can have harmful health effects.

Rob Schommer, Bellbrook's City Manager, said the city wants to be proactive and remove as much PFAS from its wells as it can, which is why they filed the lawsuit.

"We are seeking assistance in the cost of doing so [remediating PFAS] from those responsible for the chemicals themselves," Schommer said in an interview with WYSO.

Levels of PFAS in Bellbrook's wells are below the State of Ohio EPA's action level, according to testing data from this year given to WYSO by Schommer.

But PFAS levels in six of the seven wells tested this fall are above the proposed new federal EPA Lifetime Health Advisories.

Scientists at the DC-based health non-profit Environmental Working Group, or EWG, said PFAS levels above the EPA lifetime health advisory in well source water are cause for concern.

“The EPA health advisory levels that came out in June are really just confirmation of what we've been saying for a long time,” EWG’s Vice President of Government Affairs Melanie Benesh said. “PFAS chemicals are toxic at extremely low levels and that any level of exposure should be taken seriously."

Health advisories aren't enforceable regulations so that means that Bellbrook's drinking water is in compliance with state of Ohio and federal regulations.

California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont have all taken state-level PFAS action that lowered their action levels.

The U.S. EPA is expected to create new, enforceable PFAS regulations next year and the Ohio EPA said the agency will adopt those regulations when they come.

This week, one of the thirty companies that is being sued by Bellbrook, 3M , announced that they will stop producing products with PFAS in them by the end of 2025.

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.