Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances

The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants

Gerald R. Ford Airport, Cascade Township, MI

Suspected Source: Firefighting foams used at Gerald R. Ford Airport.

In March of 2018, Target 8 tracked down three former Ford Airport fire chiefs, who said that large amounts of PFAS-containing firefighting foam were used at the airport, primarily for training exercises (Kolker, 2018). They said that the foam drained into the ground untreated, and that the airport/state should test the wells of nearby homes.

Lathers, the airport’s fire chief from 1979 to 1989, said his department used the foam “probably a thousand times or so,” and that he ordered 1,800 gallons a year during his time there. He also remembered using the foam on two small plane crashes in the 1980s, both near the airport runway (Kolker, 2018).

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An aerial image from the 1997 indicates a circle of charred ground at Gerald R. Ford International Airport where firefighters trained for 20 years.

Target 8 also discovered foam in a stream — which leads to the Thornapple River — near the airport, building up at the end of a culvert that carries the stream under a roadway. Target 8 reported this finding to the DEQ, which said it plans to find out whether it’s the same kind of PFAS foam found on a lake and stream near Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

At the request of residents, Gordon Water Systems has tested 20 private wells not far from the airport, finding PFAS in four of the wells.

Airport CEO James Gill first became aware of the potential of PFAS contamination in the Spring of 2017, and plans to work with the county and the DEQ. There are over 400 homes in a residential neighborhood downhill from the airport, the majority of which have wells and were built in the 70s and 80s, some worth more than $1 million (Kolker, 2018).


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Full citations are available on the second page of the full contamination site tracker. We ask for your additions, changes, questions and comments be sent to pfasproject@gmail.com.

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