CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A statewide initiative to identify chemicals in local drinking water has discovered potentially harmful contaminants at test sites across the state and in several locations in Northeast Ohio.
It started in 2019, after Governor DeWine called on state officials to assess threats to drinking water systems. The Ohio EPA announced a plan to test drinking water at 1,500 locations across the state for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances - a family of 4,000 man-made chemicals used in products like carpeting, upholstery, cookware, food packaging, and firefighting foam.
“We must fully evaluate the prevalence of PFAS in Ohio’s drinking water to protect public health and the state’s natural resources,” DeWine said in a press release. “This plan is the first step in learning if the chemicals have a widespread presence.”
Now the results are in.
About 6% of locations tested statewide showed at least some levels of the chemicals were in the water.
That includes five businesses near Chesterland, home to a shopping center and two day cares, a nursery and a church in Geauga County, a pair of churches and the New Franklin City Hall in Summit County, and a handful of locations in Trumbull, Stark, and Tuscararus counties.
“Schools and day cares - they were the first systems that we sampled because of the fact that there are kids in those facilities,” said Laurie A. Stevenson, director of the Ohio EPA.
The majority of locations that tested positive had low levels of the chemicals, according to the data. Only one location had levels of the chemicals at levels high enough that the state says requires action to reduce exposure - the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm outside of Dayton.
The Ohio EPA says they contacted water systems and homeowners with information on help risks and how to reduce exposure when they detected any level of the chemicals in the water, according to the state’s PFAs action plan.
“In any situation where we had detections, we immediately notified the systems so they could communicate with their customers and to make sure they realized what the numbers meant,” said Stevenson.
The Ohio EPA said they will monitor the water in testing sites that came back positive for the chemicals.
PFAS are not easily metabolized by the human body and are commonly found in human blood across the nation, according to the Ohio EPA. The data on what health risks these chemicals pose is emerging.
Some studies show that PFAS exposure can cause liver damage, thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol, decreased antibody response to vaccines, and pregnancy-induced hypertension, decreased fertility and small decreases in birthweight, developmental and immune toxicity, the Ohio EPA said.
These chemicals can be found in the environment because they have been used in manufacturing for years. They don’t easily biodegrade and can find their way into drinking water from the soil.