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Environmental groups issue report, 'setting the record straight' about PFAS contamination

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Environmental groups are calling on the Air Force and the State of Michigan to get serious about cleaning up PFAS around the site of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. A new reportcompiled by a local group, Need Our Water (NOW) and the National Wildlife Federation, today issued a timeline critical of the actions of both the Air Force and the state.

“We go through in very fine detail the specific things that the Air Force has promised it would do and did not do, missed opportunities where the Air Force could have done so much more and didn't, times when the Air Force said one thing and did another,” said Oday Salim, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center.

Those two groups and other environmental organizations have joined together to elevate the awareness of the PFAS contamination around the former Air Force base and other sites across Michigan. The Great Lakes PFAS Action Network is demanding better action by the government to clean up the toxic chemicals.

The Inspector General of the Department of Defense has also been critical of the Air Force’s handling of cleaning up the PFAS contamination around Wurtsmith.

The pollution there came from decades of training at the base, using Aqueous Film Forming Foam or AFFF, a PFAS-based firefighting foam. It’s in the soil, the groundwater, the Au Sable River, Van Etten Lake, and the drinking water wells of nearby homes.

In some samples, the PFAS levels are thousands of times higher than deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The State of Michigan orders people not to eat the fish and even warned against harvesting deer in the area because of health concerns.

The Air Force is currently preparing interim cleanup plans which the environmental groups feel are not good enough.

“Because the Air Force is coming up with those cleanup plans around this time, we wanted to make sure that we highlighted the many missed opportunities from both the state agency and the Department of Defense,” Oday said.

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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