DOD Takes Aim at 'Forever Chemicals' Again Around Michigan Military Base

Two additional groundwater treatment systems will be installed at a former Michigan military base by the U.S. Department of Defense. The purpose is to address the contamination caused by “forever chemicals,” as announced by U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s office on Friday.

According to environmentalists, the implementation of these systems will play a crucial role in preventing the spread of PFAS into the Clarks Marsh area and the Au Sable River, which are located near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, situated on the shores of Lake Huron. In 1993, the base closed as part of a base realignment.

PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of compounds that have been found to persist in the environment without degrading. These health issues, such as low birth weight and kidney cancer, have been found to be associated with them. A variety of products, such as nonstick cookware, food packaging, and firefighting foam used in airports to address fires caused by plane crashes, contain these chemicals.

According to recently released Pentagon documents, a staggering number of 385 military bases across the country have been found to be contaminated with PFAS. The primary source of this contamination is the firefighting foam that has been used during training exercises.

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In 2021, records from the Department of Defense revealed that PFAS had been found in the groundwater surrounding Wurtsmith. The levels detected reached as high as 213,000 parts per trillion. In March, federal regulators proposed limits of 4 parts per trillion in drinking water. State officials have issued a warning advising the public against consuming fish, venison, or small game caught in and around Clarks March and certain areas of the Au Sable. They have also cautioned against coming into contact with any surface water or shoreline foam in Oscoda.

In August, the Department of Defense made an announcement regarding the installation of two groundwater treatment systems near the base. Two additional treatment systems will be introduced, bringing the total number of systems to four.

In a news release, Slotkin expressed that this announcement is a significant moment for Oscoda and the communities nearby. The individual expressed their determination to push the Pentagon to promptly implement these measures and tackle other cases of PFAS contaminations at installations in Michigan and throughout the nation.

Tony Spaniola, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network, has been advocating for the Pentagon to address PFAS contamination in the vicinity of Wurtsmith. Spaniola became aware of the issue in 2016 when he received notification that the water near his Oscoda cabin was not suitable for consumption. According to a statement in Slotkin’s news release, he described the additional systems as a significant milestone. According to the speaker, this effort could potentially set a precedent for cleaning up other polluted military sites.

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