Read the full article by Kelly House (Great Lakes Now)
“Michigan activists last week urged federal officials to take stronger, swifter action to research and regulate cancer-causing PFAS, and clean up contamination at Michigan military sites contaminated by the toxic ‘forever chemicals.’
At a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Govermental Affairs Committee hearing held in East Lansing, federal military and environmental officials said they’re in the process of developing enforceable PFAS drinking water standards and cleanup plans for contaminated bases such as the Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda.
But state regulators and Michigan-based activists said more is needed, from support for data-gathering as researchers race to better understand PFAS, to greater investments in cleanup technologies and better coordination among federal agencies responding to the widening crisis.
And it should start, said Cathy Wusterbarth, a Oscoda-based PFAS activist and founder of the group Need Our Water, ‘with an apology from the Department of Defense to communities.’
Michigan is home to 10 military sites with known PFAS contamination, including the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, which became Michigan’s first known PFAS site in 2010.
A decade later, military officials in charge of PFAS response at Wurtsmith still have not developed a long-term cleanup plan for the site. Residents complain that the military continues to engage in foot-dragging and obfuscation while so frequently changing staff assigned to the cleanup that activists are continually forced to ‘re-educate’ them.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, grilled Air Force officials on the Wurtsmith cleanup, saying the crisis demands a ‘sense of urgency.’
During questioning, Nancy Balkus, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and infrastructure, said the military is ‘fully supportive’ of using Michigan’s nation-leading cleanup standards at the site.
Those rules, hailed as the nation’s strongest when they took effect in 2020, lower the cleanup threshold for contaminated groundwater from 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA to 8 parts per trillion for PFOA and 16 parts per trillion for PFOS.
Further complicating efforts to contain the toxic chemicals, there are thousands of compounds that remain unregulated, even in Michigan. The federal government still lacks enforceable limits, though EPA officials said Monday they plan to release enforceable standards by the end of the year, and finalize them next year.
Exposure to ‘forever chemical’ per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS compounds, has been linked to cancer, thyroid issues and other health conditions.
Michigan has so far identified more than 240 sites contaminated by PFAS. It has seeped into groundwater across much of Michigan and been detected in the biosolids used to fertilize crops and even in the tissue of wild Lake Superior smelt.
At Wurtsmith, military officials have demurred for years as local activists and state regulators requested that it adopt Michigan’s nation-leading drinking water standards when deciding how to clean up Wurtsmith.
Beyond a full-throated commitment to meet Michigan standards, Wusterbarth said Oscoda cleanup advocates want greater transparency from military officials overseeing cleanup plans, who she said so far have demonstrated ‘lack of transparency, accountability, and collaboration,’ including excluding the public from key cleanup discussions.” …