For more than half a century, the chemical company DuPont provided jobs for thousands of people along the Ohio River. One chemical they produced is PFOA, commonly known as C8. It was a remarkably useful compound—used in “Teflon” non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics and even some food wrappers.
But because the chemical can persist in water, communities along the Ohio River—and around the U.S.—are still grappling with the environmental fallout of contamination from C8 and similar chemicals. Using water testing data available from the U.S. EPA, the Ohio Valley ReSource found 12 water systems in 10 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia where these chemicals were detected in the water.
Different Communities, Different Responses
When the EPA issued its advisory level, it triggered a range of responses from affected communities. For water systems like Vienna’s, where the levels were above the EPA threshold, action was required.
The city of Martinsburg, in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, shut down one water-filtration plant in May after detecting high levels of PFOS. PFOS is a chemical related to C8 that was found in flame-retardant foams often used at military bases and airports. Martinsburg is home to an Air Force base, which is investigating possible sources of pollution.
Many other water systems, however, detected PFAS chemicals at levels that fall somewhere in a range below EPA’s health advisory but well above what scientists such as Grandjean have recommended. These communities include Louisville and part of Pendleton County, in Kentucky; Gallia County, Ohio; and Parkersburg, West Virginia.
In Vienna, Mayor Randy Rapp just wants to get the city’s water to the EPA’s acceptable level.
“I just try to live by whatever the rules are,” Rapp said. “When they tell us what our water quality has to be, that is what we attain.”
Meanwhile, DuPont’s spin-off company isn’t producing C8 anymore. However, the substitute for C8 includes variations of the chemical known to have the potential for many of the same ecological and health effects.
This story is by The Allegheny Front as a part of its Headwaters series, which explores the environmental and economic importance of the Ohio River. Headwaters is funded by the Benedum Foundation and the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, and is produced in collaboration with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.