SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is awarding a contract in July that will expand capture zones to better control migration of Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to Clark’s Marsh, as well as two existing plumes under treatment near Oscoda.
“The Air Force has heard the community’s concerns,” said Stephen TerMaath, Chief of the Air Force’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Program Management Division. “We are eager to begin taking action at these specific locations.”
In a June 12 announcement, the department advised that the contract will expand the capture fields already in place at the former fire training area FT002 site and the Central Treatment System, located on the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB).
Additional funding authorized by Congress allowed the Air Force to allocate $13.5 million to PFOS and PFOA requirements at WAFB and proceed to the next step – the Remedial Investigation (RI) – in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
According to Air Force officials, the RI provides critical information on the nature and extent of PFOS and PFOA in soil, sediment, surface water, fish and wildlife; includes a risk assessment to determine whether PFOS and PFOA present unacceptable risks; and will help further identify what is needed for a comprehensive cleanup at the former base.
“What the RI also means is that we’re now able to conduct interim actions like these while we wait for the investigations and findings to come back,” said BRAC Environmental Coordinator Dave Gibson.
The Air Force will award the contract one year earlier than anticipated and will work with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to verify work plans, along with the design and installation of these interim actions, Gibson added.
PFOS and PFOA are components of legacy Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) the Air Force began using in the 1970s as a firefighting agent to extinguish petroleum fires. At the time, the Air Force used the product as directed by the manufacturer.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established health advisory levels in drinking water for PFOS and PFOA. Since then, the Air Force says it responded aggressively to ensure no one is drinking water over the EPA’s advisory, as a result of their past missions, and has replaced all legacy AFFF products with a new, environmentally responsible formula.
For more information on the Air Force’s response to PFOA and PFOS, visit https://www.afcec.af.mil/WhatWeDo/Environment/Perfluorinated-Compounds/.
For further details on WAFB, go to https://www.afcec.af.mil/Home/BRAC/Wurtsmith.aspx.
Following the announcement, responses were shared by both U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) and Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05).
The statement from Peters reads as follows:
“I pressed the Air Force to act more quickly because the people of Oscoda have waited far too long. That’s why I worked to secure additional funding for PFAS clean-up at sites like Wurtsmith. While I’m encouraged that the Air Force is now moving at a faster rate and ahead of its schedule, we cannot take our foot off the pedal.
“We know PFAS contamination and exposure is having a devastating effect on the local environment and economy as well as the health of residents. I’m going to continue working with the community to pressure the Air Force to act swiftly to clean up the pollution and protect Michigan families who have endured so many hardships due to the presence of PFAS in the area.”
Last month, Peters wrote to the Air Force urging the branch to expedite PFAS cleanup efforts at WAFB.
Peters has led numerous efforts to expedite the PFAS remediation projects at the former Wurtsmith facility, and enact legislation to address and prevent PFAS contamination across Michigan and the country. His work has included helping to secure the $13.5 million in funding in February, for additional tangible cleanup projects.
Feedback was also shared by Kildee, Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Caucus, who issued the following statement:
“After years of pushing for clean up of harmful per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) contamination in Oscoda, I am glad to see the Air Force begin to take action. The Air Force has known for years that substantial endangerment exists from PFAS contamination, yet has dragged its feet. Stopping PFAS chemical contamination into Clark’s Marsh is just the beginning. The Air Force must address PFAS chemicals leeching off of Wurtsmith into Lake Van Etten, where residents recreate.
“Oscoda residents have waited too long [for] the Air Force to clean up these ‘forever’ chemicals and the Air Force must move swiftly on additional remediation.”
In April, Kildee wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force, calling on the Air Force to immediately act to clean up PFAS chemicals. This followed Kildee’s remarks at the Wurtsmith Restoration Advisory Board meeting that same month, as reported, where he expressed frustration over what he referred to as the Air Force’s continued inaction.