Read the full article by Garret Ellison (MLive)
“OSCODA, MI — People in Oscoda are fed up.
One by one, they filed to the microphone Tuesday night and gave a panel of state health and environmental specialists an earful. The locals vented their frustration to state underlings for more than an hour about how PFAS plumes are affecting their lives.
The U.S. Air Force — the polluter, which contaminated the area by using chemical-based firefighting foam at Wurtsmith Air Force Base — was absent from the meeting.
Earlier, more than 20 protestors with the local activist group NOW (Need Our Water) stood by the side of U.S. 23 holding signs, alternating between chants of ‘clean water now!’ ‘Stop the bleeding!’ and ‘9 years! No plan! No action!’ to passing drivers.
Inside, the group simmered and sighed through an hourlong presentation by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE, formerly DEQ) at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church…
Then came public comment.
‘New Mexico filed a lawsuit this past January against the Air Force for groundwater contamination,’ said Robert Tasior. ‘What has the state of Michigan done?’
‘Where are the doctors who are going test our blood?’ asked Christina Coulon, who said Oscoda doctors are reluctant to order blood testing for PFAS. ‘I think it’s the responsibility of our state department of health to give us names of doctors to go to if we want to know what’s in our blood, if we want to pay for it independently.’
‘Many people here tonight, including me, feel that EGLE has been extremely ineffective in representing the public interest here in Oscoda,’ said Tony Spaniola, noting that it has been nine years since the state found PFAS at Wurtsmith…
The tense townhall follows EGLE’s announcement of a verbal agreement with the Air Force that purported to accelerate a plodding investigation that locals say has dragged on past the point of absurdity.
The move did not receive much welcome in Oscoda, where elected officials and area residents vacillated between eyerolling and plain outrage at the non-binding deal; which they’ve called ‘propaganda‘ and a ‘nothingburger‘ and parts of which even the acting remediation division director acknowledged sound a little ‘wishy-washy.’
‘We believe it’s a step forward, albeit a small one,’ said Kathy Shirey, acting head of the remediation and redevelopment division after Sue Leeming, chief broker of the deal with the Air Force, retired a few days before the agreement was announced…
Michigan and the Air Force have been in formal dispute talks since late 2017 over cleanup in Oscoda. The legal dispute occurs under an obscure federal grant program called the Defense and State Memorandum of Agreement (DSMOA). It continues despite the verbal accord, which was issued as joint press release on July 1 following a meeting in April.
The release included items like starting a new groundwater treatment system this year (a move that was already in planning stages), getting the Air Force to consider compliance with state rules limiting PFAS in surface and groundwater and moving to the next step in a protracted investigation process under Superfund law a few months sooner…
‘While they’ve alluded to agreeing to some of these things and behind closed doors they’ve said these things before, and occasionally it’s come out in a meeting here and there, we haven’t had them in writing before and we think that’s fairly significant.’
The state discovered widespread PFAS contamination at Wurtsmith in 2010. Academic researchers first found the compounds at a former firefighting area on base in the late 1990s. Activists are upset the Air Force has been able to delay implementing widespread cleanup for so long. There are two pump-and-treat systems that filter contaminated water though granular activated carbon (GAC), but there’s disagreement between the Air Force, the state and local officials about how much of the plumes those systems are actually capturing.
Arnie Leriche, co-chair of the Wurtsmith Restoration Advisory Board, alleged that the Air Force has diverted several million for PFAS remediation work away from Michigan recently that would have otherwise gone toward efforts to control pollution moving toward Van Etten Lake.
Outside the meeting, James Grego said he fished the lake for years, but won’t eat the fish anymore.
‘I ate fish out of there. I ate pike. The pike eat the small fish. They’re the big contamination,’ Grego said. ‘I’m not happy about it. It makes me bitter to think about it.’
Oscoda Township supervisor Aaron Weed said multiple treatment systems are needed along the F-41 highway between the base and Van Etten Lake. The PFAS plumes are causing the lake to regularly foam-up the shoreline on private properties and public beaches.
Weed sent a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office this week blasting the verbal agreement with the Air Force as propaganda. At the microphone, Weed urged lower level state employees disclose whomever is impeding progress within EGLE upper management.
‘I know there’s a systemic problem within the DEQ that’s slowing things down,’ Weed said. ‘I want to know where the bottleneck is. I want names. There’s a whistleblower protection act. I expect that to get utilized.’
Existing tensions were exacerbated early in the meeting when plainclothes conservation officers with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources ran askew of the middle-aged protestors at the door. The officers briefly tried to bar the group from bringing signs into the building, calling them a potential safety issue. They relented under argument by Spaniola, who characterized the move as intimidation tactics that undermine trust…”