OSCODA – Need Our Water (NOW) Oscoda – a community group formed in response to the discovery of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB) – have called on the Air Force to stop the flow of PFAS contaminants from Wurtsmith into Oscoda area surface waters by no later than 2023, and immediately begin remediation of the PFAS plumes impacting Van Etten Lake (VEL).
Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) has also sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, calling on the Air Force to immediately act to clean-up harmful PFAS.
“For too long, the people of Oscoda have had to grapple with PFAS contamination from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base while military officials dragged their feet to avoid a meaningful cleanup,” said NOW member Tony Spaniola. “We’ve been through this for more than a decade and will continue to push – even harder now – for the cleanup that should have occurred years ago.”
NOW’s priority statement comes after a virtual meeting with the Wurtsmith Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) which, as reported, was held on April 15.
A press release on behalf of NOW reads that, during the meeting, Air Force officials indicated that the $13.5 million secured through federal appropriations in February would not be used for immediate cleanup of PFAS stemming from WAFB but, rather, for more investigations and studies. Many in Michigan’s congressional delegation led the effort to secure the $13.5 million for cleanup, and pushed to have that money used for cleanup to protect the health of community members.
“I am proud to stand alongside Oscoda residents and Need Our Water as we fight for clean water for all,” said Kildee, Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Caucus.
“Simply put, the Air Force is dragging its feet and not acting fast enough to clean up dangerous PFAS chemicals,” he continued. “Oscoda residents have waited far too long for action. As the co-chair of the bipartisan PFAS Task Force in Congress, I will continue to work to hold the Air Force accountable and secure additional funding to clean up PFAS chemicals.”
According to those from NOW, it was during the RAB meeting when the Air Force determined there is not a need for immediate action, despite the fact that people in Oscoda have been directed to not drink water from private wells, not eat fish from the AuSable River, not eat venison within a five-mile radius of Clark’s Marsh and to avoid contact with foam on VEL.
“When I brought Assistant Air Force Secretary [John] Henderson to Oscoda last year, the message was loud and clear: the Air Force needs to do a whole lot more to remediate PFAS contamination in Oscoda and surrounding areas,” said Senator Gary Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Oscoda families have suffered for far too long through no fault of their own. It is vital that the cleanup efforts begin swiftly so that we can prevent the spread of PFAS in the area and reduce exposure in the community,” Peters stressed. “I’m going to continue pressing the Air Force to take action.”
NOW members note that numerous studies and investigations have taken place in Oscoda over the past 10 years, documenting imminent and substantial threats to human health and the environment which mandate immediate cleanup action. It has also been established that the Air Force’s PFAS plumes violate Michigan’s surface water safety standards over miles-long stretches of VEL and the AuSable River, which flow into nearby Lake Huron.
“For years the Air Force has argued that they could not get the funding from Congress to remediate PFAS on Wurtsmith Air Force Base, and now that Congress has appropriated $13.5 million for remediation, the Air Force is claiming they instead need it for further investigation and testing,” said Oscoda Township Supervisor Aaron Weed.
“It is clear the Air Force is trying to do everything they can to delay full remediation of Wurtsmith,” he went on. “They have years of studies, testing, and thousands of data points to develop a remediation plan and implement it, but yet it is clear they are still neglecting their primary purpose of protecting the American people even when handed the funds to do so. I hope the Air Force will straighten this out and implement immediate full remediation.”
“We are deeply disturbed that after more than a decade of grappling with PFAS, the Air Force still has not committed to actual cleanup and remediation of PFAS in Oscoda to protect the health of the community,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV). “Amidst a public health crisis, when exposure to PFAS causes immune system issues, the Air Force should take action to clean up this toxic contamination now. We can’t delay any longer.”
Kildee also held a press conference on April 27 to discuss his efforts to more quickly clean up PFAS, including around WAFB.
He spoke about the new letter he sent to Barrett and, on the call, Kildee was joined by representatives from LCV, NOW and Environmental Working Group (EWG).
He issued a press release on this same day and stated that, on Feb. 25, Barrett announced that WAFB would receive $13.5 million to address PFAS contamination. Yet, during the recent RAB meeting, the Air Force continued to say this money would be used to further study contamination instead of cleaning it up.
“The time is up for the Air Force – they need to act,” said Kildee. “No more studies, no more excuses, no more delay.”
“With clear evidence that exposure to PFAS is linked to a myriad of health problems, including autoimmune issues, it is imperative that the Department of Defense clean up their mess at the Wurtsmith Air Force Base. We stand with the people of Oscoda in urging the Air Force to do the right thing and begin using funding secured for cleanup as it was intended,” said Wozniak.
“Rep. Kildee is right. It’s time for action, not more studies. The Air Force has known that PFAS was toxic since the 1970s but failed to warn communities and service members until 2011 and they are still dragging their feet,” said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs with EWG.
“I am here to tell the U.S. Air Force that you have a rude awakening if you think we in Michigan haven’t learned from the environmental injustices subjected to our communities,” stated NOW Co-Lead Cathy Wusterbarth.
“And in Oscoda, we will not allow you to steal the money dedicated to ensuring we have safe, clean drinking and surface water for our children, for those with weakened immune systems and for our delicate environment,” she continued.
The full text of Kildee’s letter to Barrett is as follows:
“I would like to follow up with you after my comments at the most recent [RAB] meeting on April 15, 2020.
“As I’m sure you are aware, the people of Oscoda have been dealing with the effects of harmful [PFAS] in their water and waterways as a result of the use of the firefighting foam, by the U.S. Air Force, containing PFAS. For many years, the people of Oscoda have been fighting to clean up this harmful contamination, which has been met with nothing but resistance from the Air Force. This resistance from the Air Force is incredibly frustrating and unacceptable.
“Congress recently passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included additional money for the Air Force to clean up PFAS. After the NDAA’s passage, on February 25, 2020, you wrote to Michigan’s congressional delegation and stated that $13.5 million would be allocated to former Wurtsmith Air Force base as a part of your BRAC clean up plan. I appreciate the Air Force allocated this money, the most it ever has for Wurtsmith.
“During a recent RAB meeting, however, I was very concerned that the Air Force stated that this money appropriated by Congress will be used for more studies, rather than actual cleanup of harmful chemicals. Oscoda residents have waited years for the Air Force to clean up these ‘forever’ chemicals. Simply put, additional studies and surveys are unnecessary and duplicative. It’s time for the Air Force to stop studying and start acting.
“Under the law, interim measures are called for when there is an imminent and substantial endangerment of public health or the environment. We already know that substantial endangerment exists from PFAS contamination near Wurtsmith. Currently, there is a health advisory for PFAS chemical foam on Van Etten Lake, where people swim and fish. There are also health advisories for deer, fish, and all small game in Clark’s Marsh and the AuSable River. These health advisories clearly demonstrate an imminent and substantial danger that requires clean up action by the Air Force.
“Additionally, the congressional intent of this money, provided to the Air Force under the NDAA, was clearly meant for PFAS remediation and cleanup. The people of Oscoda, and Congress, have waited for meaningful action by the Air Force to act. It is my hope that the Air Force immediately begins to use these funds for cleanup, as intended. If the Air Force fails to do so, I will not hesitate to push additional congressional action to compel the Air Force to act.
“I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you soon about the Air Force’s plans to urgently act to clean up PFAS chemical contamination in Oscoda.”