OSCODA – The following is the second of a two-part story on the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) updates associated with the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB)/Oscoda area. A town hall meeting was hosted recently by the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), and last week’s publication summarized both the Clark’s Marsh study and the statewide sediment sampling efforts which were discussed during the event.

Other presenters included Puneet Vij, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). He provided a rundown of some sampling results, as well as the latest developments with the various Do Not Eat (DNE) advisories and Eat Safe Fish (ESF) Guide.

He first gave attendees a reminder of the adverse health effects which have been established in epidemiological and laboratory animal model studies for two specific PFAS compounds – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

Based on such studies, the effects in humans associated with higher PFAS exposure include reduced fertility; high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women; small decreases in infant birth weight; increased cholesterol levels, especially total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol; increased chance of thyroid disease and liver damage; decrease in the immune response to vaccines; and increased chance of cancer, especially kidney and testicular.

Vij went on to describe Round 2 of the MDHHS resampling effort, which is being used to help understand PFAS fluctuations in drinking water (DW) wells. “And this, along with the source area characterization, or extent of plume contamination, will help support our final public health determination,” he explained.

According to Vij, the second round of resampling wrapped up this summer and collections were taken from 280 of the 427 wells in the Oscoda area. There were 133 detections of PFAS, and 147 non-detects (NDs). Out of the 133, 19 detections exceeded the MDHHS comparison values (CVs).

As previously reported, of the MDHHS public health DW screening levels and the MPART health-based values – also referred to as maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) – the CVs are the lowest of the two.

“And we use this lower value to guide our public health recommendations,” Vij said. He added that in Oscoda, MDHHS has taken a precautionary public health response through the distribution of filters. Although the water may be fine to drink, this ensures residents’ continued protection while the investigation continues.

As for the Round 2 DW well results, he displayed a chart which showed that PFOA plus PFOS ranged from 2 to 66.9 parts per trillion (ppt). The range for total PFAS was 2 to 140.8 ppt.

The MDHHS CV for PFOS is 8 ppt, and it is also 8 ppt for PFOA.

Vij also went over some of the existing advisories in the Oscoda area, as well as updates related to fish and other wildlife.

With the DNE Fish advisory for any species caught from Clark’s Marsh, he said there is no change in the consumption guidelines at this point. The recommendation to not eat any of the fish from this site is driven by PFOS contamination.

When it comes to the ESF guidelines for the AuSable River, downstream of Foote Dam, these also remain the same. (Accompanying this story is the chart that lists the type and size of fish, the chemical causing the serving recommendation and whether there is a suggested serving per month or a DNE advisory for each species).

The advisory for walleye is based on dioxins, and the advisories for several other types of fish are due to PCBs. The recommendations for bluegill, largemouth bass, rock bass, smallmouth bass, suckers, sunfish and “all other species” are driven by PFOS, and each entail a DNE advisory.

Vij also shared the latest on the fish guidelines in Van Etten Lake (VEL), for which a chart is attached to this story, as well. 

Some of the recommendations have changed since they were last presented, and one example involves black and white crappie. Vij noted that the recommended serving of four per month, of any size black or white crappie from VEL, is now based on PFOS only. Previously, this was due to both PFOS and mercury contamination.

Another example of the changes is the size of suckers which, because of mercury, the maximum recommended serving per month of fish measuring 14-18 inches is four. Previously, the size was 14-20 inches. Also based on mercury, the serving recommendation for suckers greater than 18 inches is two; whereas, this used to apply to suckers greater than 20 inches.

According to Vij, northern pike, rock bass and yellow perch will be the new additions on the MPART website, as well as in the ESF Guide. “Our Eat Safe Fish team is working on the guide updates, and it will be updated as soon as possible.”

When the question-and-answer session of the meeting was open, one participant asked why the fish consumption recommendations for bass are different in the AuSable River than they are in VEL. There are suggested serving amounts per month for VEL, but there is a DNE advisory for bass taken from the river.

Vij said it really depends on the data from each particular water body, and he offered to get the specific numbers for the audience member, from the Eat Safe Fish team.

MDHHS representative Sue Manente added that the fish with the DNE advisories from the AuSable River had higher levels of PFOS than were found in the fish from VEL.

This was confirmed by Vij, who reiterated, “That’s why everything depends on the data.”

He then touched on the 2021 deer report and the DNE advisory for Clark’s Marsh which, as reported, has been changed from within five miles of the marsh to within three miles. This was based on such factors as the subsequent sampling since the initial DNE advisory was put out in 2018.

When they initially created the five miles, it actually had a one-mile buffer around it, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Senior Water Policy Advisor, Tammy Newcomb, has said. The DNR deer biologists looked at the habitat available in that area and gave a best estimate for what home range would look like for those deer. The data that was analyzed, further showed a very close association to Clark’s Marsh and that, once beyond the two-mile limit, they do not see the findings of PFAS in the muscle and liver. “And so there was an additional mile added onto that, just as a matter of assurances of the deer in that area.”

Newcomb said there was a lot of consultation with the biologists about what would make sense for this area and the timing of exposure and the likelihood of those deer being some place else than close to Clark’s Marsh.

She noted that winter time is when they’re going to be concentrated in there, and that’s when they would most likely have the higher elevated levels. So, given the information of the data and the deer behavior, with the habitat and the time of year, the biologists agreed that the three miles made sense. “And that was in consultation with [MDHHS].”

Vij has advised that the highest concentration of PFOS detected during the 2018 deer survey, was 547 parts per billion (ppb) in the muscle and about 6,000 ppb in the liver. When he discussed the more recent samples during an MPART meeting this July, he said that these numbers were 82 ppb and 2,970 ppb, respectively.

The 2021 deer report, as well as the coverage area maps, are available on the MPART website, at https://www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse.

Vij also reminded meeting participants of the continued recommendation from MDHHS to not eat the liver or kidneys from any deer, statewide, because many chemicals – including PFAS – can accumulate in these organs.

“And related to wildlife, the 2019 advisory recommending against eating resident aquatic or semi-aquatic wildlife living in or near the water in Clark’s Marsh, is still in place,” he continued.

And, while it is now past the recreational season, he gave a reminder of the ongoing advisory from MDHHS that foam due to PFAS should be avoided. The amount of PFAS in foam is usually higher than in the surface water, and swallowing foam can pose a health risk. PFAS does not absorb easily through the skin, but MDHHS recommends bathing or showering after the day’s activities – such as swimming in water bodies with PFAS foam – to avoid any exposure.

Vij moved on to the MDHHS Exposure Assessment which is being designed in order to learn about the average PFAS blood levels of people who either live or recreate/hunt and fish in the Oscoda area. The department  will ask for a small blood sample so that it can be tested for PFAS, and participants will also be asked to take a short survey looking into the ways they could potentially be exposed to PFAS.

“We’ll keep the community informed as we make more progress in the exposure assessment,” Vij said.

When an audience member asked about the time line for PFAS testing on the public, Vij advised that the target for beginning the assessment is next summer.

Another speaker that evening was Geologist Amanda Armbruster, who works for the remediation and redevelopment division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

She discussed some of the PFAS sites identified in and around Oscoda which do not currently appear to be associated with WAFB, and showed slides of the locations where monitoring wells (MWs) have been installed throughout these areas.

Starting in 2017 and 2018, many of the MWs were installed to investigate sites where there were reports of fires which were fought using aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). “And others were installed in areas where we had no known sources,” Armbruster said.

As reported, AFFF was also used by the U.S. Air Force at WAFB when the base was active – for the extinguishment of fires and during fire training exercises – which led to the subsequent PFAS contamination there.

For the sites which Armbruster said are not believed to be related to the former base, several of these MWs are sampled on a quarterly basis. “And most recently, the wells were sampled in July,” she noted, when sharing the latest results.

In the Colbath Road area, located on the northwestern end of VEL, three wells were sampled and one was above EGLE’s DW cleanup criteria.

Armbruster said that the PFAS in this area is believed to be associated with a fire, and she added that there is currently no municipal water service for this location. However, Oscoda Township did extend a water main along F-41, to the beginning of Colbath Road, near the neighborhood this summer. “So hopefully there will be municipal water service available soon to this neighborhood.”

In the meantime, she reminded the public that there are filters available to homeowners who have detections of PFAS in their wells, and that the filters can be obtained from the local health department.

When displaying a figure of the results from a couple wells which were sampled on the east side of Cedar Lake, she said that both were below the DW cleanup criteria in July. “And they were also below cleanup criteria in January and April of this year.”

Of the nine MWs which were sampled along the southeastern end of VEL, the results for two of the wells had detections of PFAS above DW cleanup criteria. The source of PFAS in this area is currently unknown, and the expansion of existing municipal water service is ongoing, with more work planned over the following years.

Armbruster said she believes that quite a bit of work and a lot of municipal lines went in this summer, along Beech Street and near Oak Street in this area. She added that, if there are detections in wells, there are also filters available throughout this area, from the local health department.

As for the wells sampled near the Oscoda Area Schools complex, Armbruster said that all three were above DW cleanup criteria, and that the contamination in this area is believed to be associated with a fire that was fought in a school storage building.

The complex is on municipal water; however, the neighborhood across the street is not. She said that while it hasn’t happened yet, the township is also working to expand municipal water to this area. Therefore, these residents can obtain filters if needed, as well.

Two wells were also sampled this July in AuSable Township, and neither exceeded the criteria. The source of PFAS detected in this area is currently unknown, according to Armbruster.

She noted that most homes and businesses are on municipal water, but there were a few private wells that were identified and sampled, and were determined to be below the criteria. “And in addition, homeowners in this general area can also receive filters from the local health department.”

Further details regarding these MWs are available on the aforementioned MPART website – under the documents tab of the Oscoda Area Sites page – including the figures shared by Armbruster, some investigation reports and other data.

The MPART meeting included talks on the U.S. Air Force’s remedial investigation and interim remedial actions at WAFB, as well. With the Wurtsmith Restoration Advisory Board having also met recently, this past week, these discussions will be summarized in a future edition of this publication.

As for the MPART event, those with questions about the WAFB investigation may contact Beth Place, of EGLE, either by e-mail at PlaceB1@michigan.gov, or by phone at 517-899-7524. Inquiries about the Oscoda area investigations can be directed to Armbruster, at ArmbrusterA@michigan.gov or 989-450-6377, and questions related to PFAS and health may be posed to Vij via e-mail, at VijP@michigan.gov, or by phone at 517-582-4104 or 800-648-6942.

The MPART meeting was also recorded and can be viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRfVItX89ZA.

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