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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?

U.S. Senate to consider bills to speed clean-up of PFAS contamination from military bases

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

The U.S. Senate will be considering two bills to clean up PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) at military installations. The ‘Filthy Fifty Act’ prioritizes 50 military bases for remediation, including two in Michigan: the former Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette County and the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda Township.

Residents in Oscoda have not been happy with the Department of Defense’s efforts to clean up PFAS there.

“What the government does with the money, are they going to put it in the right areas? I think that more needs to be done with the groundwater itself, as well as the lakes in the area,” said Catherine Larive who lives on VanEtten lakefront property across the street from Wurtsmith. The lake and homeowners’ wells were contaminated by PFAS.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Catherine Larive formerly served with a citizens group called the Restoration Advisory Board. She lives in a lake community contaminated by PFAS. (file photo)

The origin of the contamination was a fire supressant foam containing PFAS. The foam used often during training sessions over the years at the base.

She added that the legislation does give her some hope, but she’s still skeptical.

“I don’t know that the DOD (Department of Defense) will follow through. So, I’ll believe it when I see it. I believe the money could get diverted, though.”

A second bill titled the Clean Water for Military Families Act would require the military to check if there’s PFAS at other bases and to clean it up if there is. It authorizes a one-time $10 billion investment.

In Michigan, facilities such as the Battle Creek and Selfridge Air National Guard Bases and Camp Grayling would be included in the installations to be investigated.

Both of Michigan’s Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters co-sponsored the bills.

“PFAS contamination is a threat to public health and Michigan families have waited long enough for help,” Stabenow said, adding, “These bills will bring faster relief by investing in clean up, setting deadlines, and requiring the Department of Defense to remediate contamination.”

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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