AUSABLE Twp. — Oscoda and AuSable residents will soon have an opportunity to participate in the Oscoda Area Exposure Assessment, to determine how much PFAS (perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination is in their bodies.
Although PFAS contamination has been found in AuSable Township, AuSable residents were initially not included in the eligibility criteria. However, on Friday, Sept. 23, AuSable Township Superintendent Eric Strayer received an e-mail from Elizabeth Wasilevich, Senior Epidemiologist with the Division of Environmental Health (DEH) Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
“In response to feedback from the District Health Department #2, a community advisory team (CAT) providing input on recruitment, and after internal discussion regarding the scientific design of the Oscoda Area Exposure Assessment, the MDHHS team has made the decision that all current adult and adolescent residents of Oscoda and AuSable Townships will be eligible to participate in the assessment,” Wasilevich said in her e-mail.
Strayer had asked about the eligibility criteria on the recent Wurtsmith-Oscoda Area PFAS Response Coordination Call.
Members of the CAT received a similar e-mail from the Community Engagement Unit of the DEH.
Cathy Wusterbarth, co-founder of Need Our Water, attended the Sept. 19 regular meeting of the AuSable Township Board of Trustees to encourage local residents to contact the state about being included in the testing after the initial decision had been made to leave AuSable residents out of the assessment.
Materials distributed by Wusterbarth at the meeting included information about groundwater testing that had been conducted in the Smith Street area south of the AuSable River by EGLE (Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy). In 2019 testing of groundwater identified a level of 133.1 parts per trillion (ppt). Both PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) and PFOA were found in the groundwater. PFOA is one of many synthetic organofluorine compounds collectively known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). PFOA is used in several industrial applications, including carpeting, upholstery, apparel, floor wax, textiles, fire fighting foam and sealants.
In October 2019, EGLE investigated the groundwater and surface water in the vicinity of Smith Street and the DNR board launch in AuSable Township. Again, the groundwater tested to have 70 ppt, above the “acceptable” level of PFAS of 12 ppt.
During January 2020 groundwater and surface water samples tested at non detectable to 44.6 ppt. Testing throughout 2020, 2021 and early 2022 continued to show PFOS and PFOA in ground water, surface water and well water that exceeded the 12 ppt.
A CAT was developed in 2020 to work with the state researchers on the project.
Wusterbarth noted that the guidelines for what is considered “acceptable” levels of PFAS is changing from 12 ppt to less than 1 ppt.
According to Wusterbarth, the testing is valued at $900.
Wusterbarth brought a photograph of Lake Huron that had been taken during 2021 that showed foam on the lake. She reported that the foam was not tested and that the state had no plans to test the lake. An additional photo of foam on the lake, taken in Sept. 2022, was included in the packet of materials she distributed. The 2022 photo was submitted to the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team.
As previously reported, PFOS and PFAS has been found in high concentrations on the former base, including the lagoon that processes wastewater from Oscoda and AuSable. According to a presentation by Mark Henry to the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees, the contaminants are making their way into the AuSable River and ultimately Lake Huron.
According to Wusterbarth, Lake Huron is the water source for AuSable and Oscoda townships. The drinking water has been tested in the past and had a concentration of four parts per trillion of PFAS. The state has most recently set new guidelines for what is considered “acceptable” levels of PFAS. Previously 12 parts per trillion was considered acceptable. The new guidelines say less than one part per trillion. The drinking water from the lake had a concentration of four parts per trillion.
Wusterbarth recently posted a survey on the We Are Oscoda Facebook page. As of Sept. 20 over 150 responses had been posted with 98 percent indicating that AuSable residents should be included in the testing, two percent said they were undecided.
Wusterbarth sent an e-mail to Bruneau on Sept. 19 and cc’d Allar and Stamas asking that AuSable residents be included in the testing. She included the results of the groundwater, surface water and well testing in the e-mail.