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In recent months, the State of Michigan has found several places where drinking water and fish are contaminated by a class of chemicals called PFAS, or poly and perfluoroalkyl substances.PFAS is a family of chemicals that can be found in all sorts of products. But what are the lingering effects of PFAS on our health and the environment?

Defense Department documents show hundreds of military installations with PFAS contamination

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The former Wurtsmith Air Force Base is one of more than 600 military sites confirmed or suspected of PFAS in the water.

Research into the Defense Department’s records finds hundreds of military installations are contaminated with PFAS. The toxic substances are confirmed to be in the tap water or ground water in 328 military sites. They’re suspected in the water at 350 more sites. (See map here.)

The Environmental Working Group announced its findings along with Democrat Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
High levels of PFAS have been found in ground water through monitoring wells such as this one near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

Kildee says the Defense Department has argued that it was not obligated to clean up PFAS until there were state standards for the chemicals. A handful of states, including Michigan, are setting standards. Kildee says now the military is changing its position.

“For the states that have applied them, they seem to have gotten some amnesia and aren’t willing to comply,” he said.

Kildee outlined legislation that is getting bi-partisan support to tackle PFAS clean up. He says Congress needs to do more.

“We were able to get significant resources, a couple hundred million to clean up PFAS through Congress last year. But it's going to take billions. And so we have to get serious about this,” he said.

Part of that includes setting federal standards for PFAS in drinking water. Then, Congress will require the military to clean up PFAS and to pay for hooking up clean water connections to areas where water supplies are contaminated.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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