PFAS brings top Air Force official to Michigan

Former Fire Training Area #2 was operated at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan, from 1958-1991. PFAS chemicals have been discovered there | Breanne Humphreys, Air Force

In the latest sign that dangerous PFAS chemicals continue to plague sites around the state, a top U.S. Air Force official plans to visit a military base where the substance has been discovered.

Gary Peters

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) on Thursday, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that Assistant Secretary John Henderson is working to schedule a visit to Wurtsmith Air Force Base near Oscoda where PFAS chemicals were discovered last year.  

“I can understand your concerns given the environmental impacts around Wurtsmith Air Force Base,” Wilson wrote to Peters. “You have my assurance that the Air Force will continue to work with the state of Michigan throughout the dispute resolution process.”

Peters, a first-term U.S. senator who’s up for re-election in 2020, had requested the visit last week. The senator serves as the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Families and veterans living around Wurtsmith are facing health risks from PFAS contamination — which they were exposed to for years — and they deserve answers,” Peters said in a statement. “While I’m encouraged the Secretary has assured me the Air Force will remain proactive in remediation efforts and work with the State of Michigan, I continue to believe the Administration will need to be directed by Congress to set enforceable standards to guide clean up at contaminated sites.”

Environmental contractors sample the groundwater from former fire training area #2 to check for PFAS at former Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan | Breanne Humphreys, Air Force

Other members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have been working on legislation at the federal level to address PFAS.

Exposure to PFAS chemicals have contributed to myriad health problems like autism and cancer, as the Advance has previously reported. They’ve been discovered at sites all around the state in recent years.

Scientists studying the issue say the state ignored the problems for years and have just begun to take action. But it’s unclear how much money, time or people it will take to fully remediate the PFAS chemicals.

“Nobody knows how much it will take,” Bob Delaney, a geologist with the former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), told the Advance in December. “We’re stressed for personnel right now. There’s just a lot coming at us, and even though they’re hiring new people, there’s just [only] so much any of us can do.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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