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Ohio's water quality program is expanding to the state's rivers

The Great Miami River
United States Geological Survey
The Great Miami River

The state of Ohio is ramping up monitoring and potential remediation efforts related to PFAS, the compounds often called "forever chemicals."

The family of chemicals don't break down easily, hence the moniker. What's more, research suggest they can be carcinogenic.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday in Cincinnati the H2Ohio program will expand its scope to address forever chemicals by monitoring water and wildlife samples in the state's 29 large rivers. That testing should be completed in the fall of 2024, DeWine says.

"The key is finding out where it is, making sure people know where it is, and then doing whatever we can do for remediation," DeWine says. "But you first have to know what we're dealing with. That's where we're putting a great deal of focus on."

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State officials say testing of Ohio's 1,550 public water systems found PFAS contamination in just 6% of them. The state hopes to keep that number from rising by testing in rivers next.

Ohio EPA Director Anne M. Vogel says the state believes much of the PFAS in Ohio is legacy pollution from sources like fire-fighting foam and some industries, though testing will give researchers a better understanding of the amount and sources of the chemicals and whether they continue to be an ongoing concern.

The expansion of H2Ohio will also work to preserve water quality in Southwest Ohio more broadly with the creation of a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program for the Great Miami and Little Miami watersheds. CREPs work to preserve forestry lining waterways by incentivizing farmers to set aside lands containing those so-called riparian barriers, which serve as erosion controls and wildlife habitats. Ohio already has active CREPs for the Lake Erie and Scioto River watersheds.

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The H2Ohio program also will begin undertaking the study of mussels and the removal of unnecessary low-head dams in rivers like the Great Miami River as it passes through Miami County. The removal of the dams should help restore surrounding aquatic ecosystems.

The H2Ohio program started in 2019 to address algal blooms in Lake Erie and to replace aging water infrastructure in low-income communities. The Ohio General Assembly allocated roughly $270 million to expand the program in the last state budget.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.