Read the full article by William T. Perkins (News-Review)
“PELLSTON — Officials say the PFAS types found contaminating a well near Pellston Regional Airport match the profile of chemicals incorporated in firefighting foams that have sometimes been used at airfields.
But, in the months leading up to those findings, faulty information circulating among state departments suggested the Pellston airport never used such firefighting foam. Officials say the supposed flub was probably just a mistake — not the result of any party trying to mislead the public or cover information up.
News of the error came out during a town hall forum about the contamination on Wednesday, which followed a Feb. 7 announcement by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan that PFAs readings at ‘actionable’ levels had been observed in water testing for a private well near the airport. During the meeting, an area resident asked why the state didn’t do any tests in the Pellston area sooner, knowing that PFAS-containing foams are often used at airports.
‘The state police fire marshal sent out a (survey) … to all the airfields and all the fire departments across the state and said, ‘Do you have this stuff?’’ said Randy Rothe, Gaylord District supervisor for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). ‘When our office got that sheet, it said Pellston never used it, never stored it never did anything with it.’
He said that didn’t seem right.
‘I kept contacting Lansing and said ‘But it doesn’t make sense,’ he said. ‘I found out what happened was the company that took the data from the survey and put it in the spreadsheet goofed it up. They had the fire chief for this area as the city of Grayling’s city manager. The telephone number for this area was actually the telephone number for the Lewiston fire department. So there was a transcription error in there.’
The results of the fire marshal surveys, in part, were used to help make decisions about how many state resources should be allocated to various areas to help fight PFAS contamination.
In a followup interview, Rothe told the News-Review that, despite the incorrect information, he still asked his superiors to devote $250,000 to the Pellston area. That was before independent test results came back positive for PFAS.
But resources are still limited, and the state has not been able to do comprehensive tests at every known airfield.
In fact, the presence of elevated PFAS levels wouldn’t have been discovered yet if it weren’t for a group of Pellston High School students. Using materials provided by Freshwater Future, a third-party group specializing in PFAS detection, those students collected water samples from local homes as part of a school project.
It was those results that sparked the current investigation into the chemicals in Pellston.
Christiaan Bon, an EGLE Gaylord geologist who will be leading the investigation, said the initial results were found within a block of the airport, west of U.S. 31. It’s possible the chemicals traveled downriver from the airport along the West Branch of the Maple River, he said.
Throughout Wednesday’s town hall meeting, officials noted that that geography looks strikingly similar to a previously confirmed Northern Michigan PFAS site: Grayling, where residences lie just downstream of the Camp Grayling Army Base, where state officials confirmed contamination from the use of firefighting foams…”