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Peters Statement on Steps Announced by the Air Force to Prevent Further Spread of PFAS Contamination at Former Wurtsmith Air Force Base

DETROIT, MI – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, released the following statement on the U.S. Air Force’s announcement that they will install groundwater treatment systems at two additional Wurtsmith sites to prevent further spread of PFAS-contaminated water into local water systems.

“This announcement is a positive step in our yearslong effort pressing the Air Force to address PFAS contamination at Wurtsmith,” said Senator Peters. “I welcome this action to prevent the spread of these toxic chemicals, but there is no question more must be done — and the Air Force must expedite cleanup efforts to protect public health and ensure access to clean drinking water in Oscoda. I’ll continue to push the Air Force to take additional steps and hold them – and other federal agencies – accountable to mitigate PFAS at Wurtsmith and in other Michigan communities.”

“We are thrilled that our citizen-developed plan to “Stop the Bleeding” at Wurtsmith has become the Defense Department’s national policy directive, and that Wurtsmith, fittingly, is the first place it’s being implemented,” said Tony Spaniola of Need Our Water (NOW) in Oscoda. “We thank Senator Peters and other members of Congress for their tireless efforts on our behalf, and we specifically thank Under Secretary La Plante for his leadership on this important issue.  There’s more work to be done at Wurtsmith and other military installations across the country, and we look forward to continuing our efforts with Senator Peters and others to get additional interim remedies implemented with all deliberate speed.”

"Advocates from Oscoda and communities across the state have worked tirelessly to bring PFAS contamination to the forefront for decision makers to find solutions to address these toxic contaminants in our water. These actions by the Department of Defense will help protect the health of community members in Oscoda and set a model for addressing PFAS contamination caused by the U.S. Military across the country," said Bentley Johnson, federal government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. "Members of our Michigan delegation, like Senator Peters, have been true advocates for the community in Oscoda, pushing the Department of Defense toward action. We commend Sen. Peters for his commitment to protecting the health of Michiganders and look toward continued action to protect the health of Michiganders from toxic PFAS contamination."

Peters has worked with the Oscoda community for years on PFAS remediation efforts at Wurtsmith. During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, Peters pressed Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to commit to taking immediate remedial actions without any further delays. In 2022, Peters convened a field hearing in East Lansing with officials from the Department of Defense (DoD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to examine federal efforts and coordination with state and local governments to clean up and prevent contamination from PFAS, and to examine the impact exposure to these toxic chemicals has had on servicemembers, first responders, families, and other Michiganders. In 2019, Peters hosted the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force at Wurtsmith to urge them to do more to mitigate PFAS contamination. Peters helped secure $13.5 million for PFAS remediation efforts there, and he has also called on the Air Force to take more significant steps to address PFAS contamination near Wurtsmith and to meet the State of Michigan’s standards to address PFAS contamination. He has also taken steps to hold the DoD accountable for their failure to meet key PFAS reporting deadlines.

Peters has also led and championed many efforts to address toxic PFAS chemicals. In September 2018, Peters helped convene the first-ever hearing on PFAS contamination in the Senate, which assessed the federal government’s response to PFAS contamination and remediation efforts. He then convened a field summit in Grand Rapids in November 2018 to shine a light on how local, state and federal governments are coordinating responses to address PFAS contamination. Peters also convened a hearing in 2021 as Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to examine how servicemembers, their families, and communities across the country have been harmed by exposure to toxic PFAS substances connected to military sites. He also previously supported and led provisions in the national defense bill to prohibit DoD from purchasing or using firefighting foams containing PFAS chemicals for military training exercises, and enhanced state cooperation DoD to clean-up PFAS contamination stemming from military-related activities.

Peters introduced and advanced bipartisan legislation to reduce the spread of PFAS chemicals at commercial airports. The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act – which is working to deploy more existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding for commercial airports to purchase devices to test their firefighting equipment without discharging toxic PFAS chemicals – was signed into law last year. In 2022, Peters’ bill to help protect firefighters and emergency responders from PFAS exposure in the line of duty was also signed into law.