Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances

The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants

Oscoda Township, Michigan

Suspected contamination source: Firefighting foam used at former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB) (MDCH, 2015)

April 2017 Wurtsmith PFC PFAS plume map
April 2017 map of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also called PFCs, spreading through the groundwater in Oscoda, Mich. -Michigan DEQ

Wurtsmith Air Force Base is a decommissioned United States Air Force base that was in use from 1920-1993. Firefighting foam (AFFF) used at Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB) is believed to have contaminated ground water in the area and potentially causing chronic diseases in veterans and those who lived on the base.

Decades-old water found inside fire hydrants at the base may prove that military veterans and families stationed in northern Michigan were drinking water contaminated with PFASs. One hydrant on the base, No. 57, tested at 7,400 ppt for PFOS/PFOA. The EPA lifetime health advisory level for PFOS/PFOA is 70 ppt. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) examined about 240 hydrants and found measurable water in 22. The stagnant water has sat untouched in catch basins outside the pipes that connect the hydrants to the main water lines.

The catch basins are underground, but above the water table level.

-a8dc38156a111b92Fish in Clark’s Marsh and several small lakes south of the base have tested for PFOS at the highest levels ever detected. A “Do Not Eat” advisory was issued for native fish species in the Au Sable River below Foote Dam in 2012.

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a bill meant to force the U.S. military to supply safe drinking water to Oscoda residents whose wells are polluted with toxic chemicals leaching from the closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base, but it’s not clear whether the Pentagon is interested in following the new law. Public Act 545 of 2016 amends the state Safe Drinking Water Act to require the state or federal government provide an “alternative water supply” to affected private residential well owners if state health officials have issued a drinking water advisory and the government is the source of the pollution.

Additional Resources

Measuring Perfluorinated Compounds in Michigan Surface Waters and Fish

Perfluorinated Chemicals in Drinking Water Wells in Oscoda Township Responses to Community Concerns as of June 6, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions about the PFOS Contamination   at the Former Wurtsmith Air Force Base

Study: Occurrence and persistence of perfluorooctanesulfonate and other perfluorinated surfactants in groundwater at a fire-training area at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan, USA

Media Coverage:

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

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