Air Force begins sampling groundwater wells at Oscoda PFAS site

State PFAS response team gives update to area residents 

Clark's Marsh in Oscoda, which is being monitored for PFAS levels | Michael Gerstein

Oscoda residents had a chance to ask questions and hear updates from state officials Tuesday on how the U.S. Air Force’s cleanup of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is coming along at the decommissioned Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

The base was found to have significant PFAS groundwater contamination more than a decade ago. The U.S. Air Force began releasing its cleanup plans for the base in mid-March. In April, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she is invoking a federal law to ensure the Air Force uses the strictest PFAS standards possible during the process.

On Monday, the Air Force’s remedial investigation fieldwork began with sampling existing groundwater wells at the site.

“We are still negotiating the rest of the quality assurance project plan or work plan for the work, but [the] Air Force and EGLE agreed to take this as sort of a piecemeal approach where we can agree on a portion of the work and then move forward with that portion of the work to help speed things along,” said Beth Place, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) project manager for the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) held the briefing Tuesday that also included representatives from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

EGLE is the support agency for the cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), as well as the state regulatory agency.

Whitmer invokes federal law to hold military site cleanups to highest PFAS standards

Updates on quarterly sampling at the Oscoda area sites and a recent Clark’s Marsh deer study were also shared. After the series of presentations, residents asked questions about the specifics of testing and public health concerns.

The details on the cleanup of Clark’s Marsh will be released in the near future by the Air Force, Place said, and another interim remedial action along that lake has yet to go out for public comment.

Clark’s Marsh has been found to have some of the highest concentrations of firefighting foam chemicals in the state.

“EGLE is supportive of that in our remedial action, and we will be documenting that in a letter to [the] Air Force sometime this week that we are supportive, and we will provide comment on that,” Place said.

EGLE has also requested an additional interim remedial action from the Air Force in order to capture PFAS-contaminated groundwater between the FTO2 treatment system and the Mission Street treatment system.

Place said the Air Force is aware of the request and is working on implementing it.

Other speakers included a geologist from EGLE and an aquatic biologist with EGLE’s Water Resources Division to speak about PFAS testing of certain areas in and near the area.

Michigan adopted the strictest MCLs in the nation last year for seven specific PFAS compounds: PFNA (6 ppt), PFOA (8 ppt), PFHxA (400,000 ppt), PFOS (16 ppt), PFHxS (51 ppt), PFBS (420 ppt) and GenX (370 ppt).

The U.S. House is expected to vote Wednesday on the PFAS Action Act of 2021, which has been championed by two Michigan lawmakers, U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph).

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).