“Foam loaded with the potentially health-harming ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS — a major concern in a five-county area of the Huron River in southeast Michigan —also is coating growing swaths of the surface and shores of waters surrounding the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, where the foam is now reaching Lake Huron.
But the U.S. Air Force is not acting to stop the contaminated groundwater plumes coming off the base that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has identified as the source of the foam.
Greg Cole has a front-row seat to surface water conditions on Van Etten Lake next to the former Wurtsmith base site: He operates the flood-control dam on the lake.
‘I’m looking at the water all the time,’ he said. “I have to say (the foam) is getting worse.”
Added Troy attorney Anthony Spaniola, whose family owns property on Van Etten Lake, ‘It’s scary because it’s everywhere there.’ …
‘We’re confident the base contamination is the source of the lake foam,’ said Scott Dean, spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder’s Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, a multi-agency group addressing the emerging contaminant statewide…
But the U.S. Air Force, while addressing environmental contamination on the former base site, is taking no action on contaminated groundwater plumes leaving the site into nearby water bodies showing foam. Their actions off-site from Wurtsmith to date have largely focused on providing bottled water and/or reverse osmosis filtration systems to the few residents whose wells have PFAS compounds above the EPA’s health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.
‘The Air Force has not acknowledged that surface water foams are a result of their contaminated groundwater plumes emanating from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base,’ Dean said.
Air Force officials, responding to Free Press inquiries via email, said, ‘It is currently unknown whether or not the foam is the result of releases from former Wurtsmith AFB (Air Force Base). The Air Force is cooperating with State of Michigan officials’ efforts to determine the exact cause.’
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality tested Van Etten Lake foam in late September and earlier this month, and is awaiting the results of that testing, Dean said. In August 2017 the state found its highest readings for PFAS compounds in lake foam there, with chemicals Perfluorooctane Sulfonate and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, known as PFOS and PFOA, cumulatively at 166,180 parts per trillion. Michigan’s maximum allowable PFOS level is 11 parts per trillion for surface water used as a drinking water source, and 12 parts per trillion for other surface waters. For PFOA, it’s 420 ppt and 12,000 ppt, respectively…
The Lake Huron foam often moves south, toward Oscoda’s municipal water intake pipe, Weed said. If it causes harmful PFAS levels in that water supply, it’s a big problem, he said, as groundwater in the area is too tainted to use as a residential water source.
Cole, who cochairs a grassroots local group concerned about the Wurtsmith base contamination called Need Our Water, also owns lakefront cottages rented to tourists.
‘My business has been down for a couple of years,’ he said. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ‘tells us it’s safe to swim in, just don’t swallow or ingest it in any way. But when you’ve got little kids out there, I know dang well they accidentally swallow water. Skiing, tubing, they’re going to take a gulp.
‘It’s not good. And now that this foam is appearing more and more on the lake — people from downstate, all the tourists, they’re actually able to see it, and that’s what’s getting people alarmed.’
The DEQ has a pilot foam removal program, but several area residents told the Free Press that it’s not proving very effective.
‘It’s been set up in such a cumbersome way, you have to go through so many hoops to get them to send somebody out,’ Spaniola said. “