MLive: Air Force pledges to be ‘proactive’ on PFAS in Oscoda
OSCODA, MI — The Secretary of the Air Force has told U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., that it will be “proactive” in cleaning up toxic PFAS contamination at a former base in northern Michigan where the chemicals are polluting drinking water and the environment.
This week’s letter was in reply to Peters, who rebuked the Air Force last week for taking an “aggressive and defensive posture” with the state of Michigan related to its compliance with state laws limiting the amount of PFAS entering surface water bodies.
The state and Air Force are in the midst of a dispute over the adequacy and speed of cleanup efforts around the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda.
“You have my assurance that the Air Force will continue to with the state of Michigan throughout the dispute resolution process,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson wrote. “The Air Force remains proactive in remediation efforts consistent with federal law.”
Wilson wrote that Assistant Air Force Secretary John Henderson was “working to schedule” a visit to Oscoda, in response to an invite by Peters.
Wilson also wrote that she was seeking more information from staff, for a “more substantive reply” than the short Feb. 7 letter.
In a statement, Peters called the letter encouraging but reiterated his position that the situation exemplifies the need for enforceable national standards on PFAS contamination.
“While I’m encouraged the Secretary has assured me the Air Force will remain proactive in remediation efforts and work with the State of Michigan, I continue to believe the Administration will need to be directed by Congress to set enforceable standards to guide clean up at contaminated sites,” Peters said. “I’m working on drafting that legislation and look forward to introducing it soon with Senate colleagues.”
There’s been growing bipartisan pressure from Congress on the Environmental Protection Agency to establish national drinking water standards for PFAS compounds and designate the chemicals as “hazardous” under federal Superfund law.
Peters’ letter was sent following an MLive report that the Air Force was refusing to comply with a 12 parts-per-trillion limit on the individual compound PFOS in state surface water.
The Air Force has claimed federal sovereign immunity allows it to disregard the state law, and that the state can’t take enforcement actions during dispute resolution.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wants the Air Force to significantly increase the amount of groundwater being treated for PFAS in Oscoda. It has issued two pollution violation notices to the Air Force in the last two years.
Wurtsmith is one of about 400 active of closed U.S. military bases where there’s been a suspected or confirmed released of PFAS chemicals. The contamination is from AFFF firefighting foam used for years to train with and respond to emergencies.
The chemical properties that make PFAS valuable in the marketplace also make them persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment. Exposure to them are linked to chronic health conditions like cancer and developmental delays in children.
By: Garret Ellison
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