“GRAWN, MI — Drinking water is being tested for PFAS contamination near the site where a huge tire fire burned for a nearly a month more than 20 years ago near Traverse City.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is testing wells near the former Carl’s Retreading fire site in Blair Township for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contamination after learning that chemical-based foam was used to fight the blaze.

The property at 5175 Sawyer Woods Drive in Grawn is 900 feet from Blair Elementary School, which draws water from an on-site well that DEQ contractors sampled July 16. The results are being expedited through an out-of-state lab, say local health officials.

Fingers are crossed that it comes back clean…

‘We’re hopeful we don’t see anything because the school’s location is more side-gradient from the plume.’

Thorell said the DEQ also sampled another residential well southeast of the fire site, which was excavated in 2002 and 2003 by the Environmental Protection Agency after high levels of hazardous chemical byproducts from burned tires were found underground.

The DEQ found moderate PFAS levels in groundwater probe samples taken from the southeast corner of the fire site in May. Ten private wells near the site are scheduled to be tested.

‘It’s one of those sites that’s fairly well understood because of all the excavation that went on after the fire,’ said DEQ spokesman Scott Dean. ‘They were able to find the most logical place to put geoprobes down and they came back with some positives. The next step is to test drinking water in the direction of groundwater flow.’

The state began looking for PFAS in Grawn upon learning that aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, was used on the fire, which started Dec. 29, 1995 and was finally put out 22 days later on Jan. 20…

Much of the surrounding area is served by municipal water from the Blair Township system, which Thorell said has deep wells southwest of the site that draw from underneath a confining clay layer, which should protect them from contamination.

The DEQ is scheduled to test the township wells as part of a statewide effort to check for PFAS contamination in municipal supplies…

If testing detects PFAS in residential wells near the site, Thorell said the health department would begin distributing bottled water.

Thorell said the Blair water system already connects to the school, so hooking up municipal water there would be a fairly simple task.

Thorell, who was on a conference call with the DEQ on Tuesday, said the state decided to test for PFAS in Grawn after someone watched an online video produced by the EPA that mentioned foam.

In that video, late Grand Traverse County rural fire chief Fred Muller mentions that foam was used early in the fire. However, it hardly made a dent in the stubborn blaze. Crews eventually put the fire out by dumping tires into pits and smothering them with dirt.

At the time, the fire forced the evacuation of 46 homes and Blair Elementary School, which became a de-facto command post for emergency responders. More than a dozen departments and the Air National Guard sent men and equipment.

The fire began when a tire shredding machine ignited nearby scrap tires that were piled 30 feet high in some areas. For weeks, the smoke column was visible for miles around as about 750,000 tires burned…

Carl’s Retreading filed for bankruptcy in 1998 and the DEQ used money from a company insurance policy to take 86,650 tons of scrap tires, soil, ash and debris to a landfill. In 2003, the EPA cleaned up soil and groundwater polluted with pyrolitic oil at the site.

The DEQ says cleanup at the site totaled $3.4 million.”

Read the full article by Garret Ellison