Read the full article by Kelly House (Bridge MI)

“Michigan’s new, stricter drinking water standards for the toxic ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS have been lauded as among the toughest in the nation and as good news for residents who live near contaminated sites that now will require cleanup.

But for residents of Oscoda Township, where the federal government’s activities at a former air force base have contaminated area groundwater, surface water, and even the flesh of fish and wildlife, the celebration over the stronger standards is tempered by frustration.

A decade since scientists first discovered contamination caused by past firefighting activities at now-defunct Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan’s first known PFAS site, Air Force officials say they will not commit to meeting the state’s tougher cleanup standards. And in the meantime, residents say, the military branch is using federal money intended for PFAS cleanup to instead conduct more studies of a well-documented problem.

Their frustration comes as they endure another summer of dodging PFAS-laden foam when they swim in area lakes, heeding state health advisories against eating fish and game from a local marsh, and breaking disappointing news to vacationing children who want to play in the white, sticky foam along the Au Sable River.

‘They want to put it on like shaving cream,’ said Cathy Wusterbarth, an Oscoda resident who leads the group Need Our Water. ‘If you’re not from around here, you don’t know.’

Oscoda’s experience highlights an ongoing headache in Michigan’s effort to address PFAS contamination: Without federal cooperation, the state’s efforts could have limited effect at Wurtsmith and other U.S. defense sites where testing has revealed contamination.

Air Force officials responsible for cleaning up the pollution from Wurtsmith, one of 10 military sites on Michigan’s PFAS cleanup list, have claimed the site is exempt from state environmental regulations although officials may voluntarily comply when they finally craft a cleanup plan. 

‘The Department of Defense is evaluating [cleanup standards], and we take our lead from what the Department of Defense says,’ said Stephen TerMaath, who leads the Air Force division in charge of Wurtsmith cleanup.

The Air Force’s decline to commit to Michigan’s standards is among a litany of frustrations Oscoda residents say they have with the military officials working on the cleanup at the former base, which operated for 70 years before closing in 1993. They complain officials have been opaque about their plans and slow to take interim steps to stop contamination from spreading while residents await a comprehensive cleanup plan that is still years away. 

‘Their strategy is avoidance and delay,’ said Wusterbarth. ‘It always has been…'”