Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA), Grand Rapids, Kent County

Last Updated: October 1, 2021

EGLE Site Lead:
Aaron Assmann

Gerald R Ford PFAS Investgation mapBackground

This site has operated as an airport since the 1960s and from then until the mid-1990s, federally required firefighting training activities were performed on-site on the northeast side of the property at the former firefighting training area (FFTA) using PFAS-containing aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). Training has occurred at other airports since the mid-1990s. Lesser volumes (10-15 gallons) of AFFF have been used annually at the "ARFF and Ramp 5" pad locations to test firefighting response equipment. AFFF use locations (FFTA, ARFF, Ramp 5) exist within the Outfall 011 drainage area. Storm water collected in the Outfall 011 drainage area flows through a permitted natural treatment system (NTS) designed to treat storm water from airfield de-icing & anti-icing areas and is then discharged to the Thornapple River. The approximate locations of two confirmed emergency response events where AFFF was used have also been identified at Taxiway D and Runway 26L.

A thick layer of clay beneath the FFTA investigation area was found between the surface and deep groundwater. Deep (beneath clay layer) groundwater flow direction in the FFTA investigation area is north/northeast. Shallow (above clay layer) perched groundwater has been identified in the FFTA investigation area. Storm water drainage flows to multiple locations off airport property toward either the Thornapple River (east) or Plaster Creek (west). Stormwater, in the vicinity of the FFTA, ARFF, and Ramp 5, drains toward the Thornapple River. 

Recent Accomplishments‚Äč

  • On January 29th, 2021, the City of Grand Rapids applied for Consolidation and Contamination Risk Reduction (C2R2) grant program funding to extend municipal drinking water service to address PFAS contamination found in the Cascade Township Residential Wells AOI.
    • A grant was awarded in June 2021, which is expected to connect 256 residential homes, including all 40 locations where PFAS was detected above EGLE drinking water criteria, to municipal water in 2022.
  • On March 24, 2021, EGLE issued GFIA a violation notice letter for storm water sample results collected from the Outfall 11 sample location that indicated results above water quality standard for PFOS.
    • Access to: EGLE's March 24, 2021 VN.
  • On March 30, 2021, EGLE issued GFIA an enforcement notice letter.
    • Access to: EGLE's March 30, 2021, Enforcement Notice (EN).
  • On April 7, 2021, GFIA completed the MDOT PFAS investigation "Round 1" report.
  • On May 6, 2021, EGLE and GFIA met to discuss options for how GFIA will address violations cited in EGLE compliance communications. Negotiations are ongoing.
  • On June 10, 2021, GFIA provided EGLE their MDOT PFAS Investigation "Round 2" workplan.

Next Steps

  • GFIA will execute their MDOT PFAS Investigation "Round 2" workplan.
  • City of Grand Rapids and Cascade Township will design and plan municipal water expansion project.
  • EGLE will continue to collaborate with GFIA regarding on-site and off-site investigations.

Residential Well Testing/Alternate Water Information

  • Most homes in Cascade Township neighborhoods east and northeast of airport property are supplied with well water.
  • 28 residential wells have been tested by GFIA; 22 independent residential well test results have been communicated to EGLE.
  • For additional information on residential well testing and results, visit the Frequently Asked Questions.
  • EGLE has sampled all municipal water supplies for PFAS. View the results for the city of Grand Rapids.

Upcoming Community Engagement

  • None scheduled at this time.

Sampling Results Summary

Type of Sample

Date Sampled
(or range)

Number of Sample
Results Received

Number of Samples
above Criteria*

Groundwater Monitoring
Dec. 2020 - Jan. 2021 16 2
Surface Water Dec. 2020 3 1

* Residential well and groundwater monitoring well results are compared to EGLE Part 201 criteria for 7 PFAS compounds:  PFOS (16 ppt), PFOA (8 ppt), PFNA (6 ppt), PFHxS (51 ppt), PFHxA (400,000 ppt), PFBS (420 ppt), and HFPO-DA (370 ppt).

* Surface water samples are compared to Rule 57 non-drinking water values of 12 ppt for PFOS and 12,000 ppt for PFOA. 

Sampling notes

  • On August 3, 2020, new Part 201 Criteria went into effect.  Historical sampling data compared to Part 201 Criteria >70 is captured in the historical timeline below.
  • Other PFAS analytes were detected in samples. There are no federal or state standards for these analytes.

Historical Timeline

  • In March 2018, Wood TV 8 (Grand Rapids) released a news report identifying that the GFIA used PFAS containing AFFF for mostly training purposes for many years on GFIA property, which is uphill from many homes on residential drinking water wells.
  • In April 2018 - October 2018, independent drinking water well test results were communicated to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). Results were below 70 parts per trillion (ppt) PFOS+PFOA. The largest total PFAS communicated was 96 ppt.
  • In April 2018, GFIA began Phase 1 of an on-site PFAS investigation in the vicinity of the former firefighting training area, with installation of five deep groundwater monitoring wells. Shallow groundwater samples were collected when groundwater was encountered. Phase 1 also included the collection of many surface soil samples.
  • In April 2018, GFIA, EGLE, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and Kent County Health Department (KCHD) began recurring collaborative meetings.
  • In June 2018, EGLE received the interim report on Phase 1 groundwater findings from GFIA. Results were below 70 ppt PFOS+PFOA. The highest total PFAS was 487 ppt.
  • In July 2018, EGLE received the interim report on Phase 1 soil findings. Results showed that multiple locations exceeded the criteria for PFOS for soil protective of the groundwater-surface water interface (GSI).
  • In July 2018, GFIA began Phase 2 of the on-site PFAS investigation, which included the installation and sampling of three new deep groundwater monitoring wells, collection of additional deep and shallow groundwater samples, and collection of soil samples in the vicinity of Ramp 5 and the ARFF.
  • In July 2018, GFIA began sampling residential drinking water wells. GFIA contacted 44 property owners offering drinking water well sampling. 28 property owners agreed. Results were 27 non-detects and one detection had total PFAS of 12 ppt and non-detect for both PFOA and PFOS.
  • In August and September 2018, EGLE Water Quality Division collected surface water samples from tributaries near GFIA as well as the Thornapple River. At all locations, results showed detections of PFAS below Rule 57 water quality standards.
  • On September 5, 2018, EGLE, MDHHS, GFIA, and KCHD participated in a public meeting with residents and other public to discuss the PFAS investigation in the area.
  • On September 26, 2018, GFIA issued a press release informing the public of the residential drinking water results.
  • In October 2018, EGLE received the report on Phase 2 investigation findings. Results showed one shallow groundwater sample collected from the former fire training area investigation above70 ppt PFOS+PFOA at 973 ppt. Total PFAS was 3,364 ppt.
  • In October 2018, GFIA issued a letter informing EGLE, MDHHS, and the KCHD that no additional investigation is required into nearby residential neighborhoods and that the on-site investigation will continue.
  • In January 2019, GFIA performed additional soil sampling around the "ARFF" and "Ramp 5" locations.
  • In January 2019, EGLE completed an internal geologic review to determine potential migration patterns. Staff recommendations include conducting additional residential drinking water sampling along the Unnamed Tributary as well as additional on-site investigation.
  • In January 2019, EGLE's geologic review recommendations were communicated to GFIA.
  • In February 2019, EGLE procured state funding to perform residential drinking water well sampling per recommendations from EGLE's geologic review.
  • In March 2019, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) developed a residential drinking water well sampling plan, timeline and other project resources. Progress will be tracked as an Area of Interest on the MPART website.
  • In April 2019, EGLE Water Resources Division issued GFIA a letter summarizing their agreement with GFIA to conduct a Short-term Storm Water Characterization Study (STSWSC) to ensure that discharges meet water quality standards for PFAS.
  • In April 2019, EGLE requested submission of interim soil data collected around the ARFF and Ramp 5.
  • In April 2019, EGLE Remediation and Redevelopment Division (RRD) issued GFIA a letter requesting a written work plan by the end of May for how GFIA will continue its on-site PFAS investigation
  • On May 16, Senator Brinks hosted a Town Hall Town Hall in East Grand Rapids where EGLE presented the status of GFIA's on-site and off-site PFAS investigation.
  • On May 16, 2019, GFIA submitted the Soil Sampling at ARFF (Aircraft Rescue Firefighting) and Ramp 5 report. Data shows that PFOS exceeds soil protective of GSI criteria in 24 surficial soil samples (0' - 6' below ground surface). In total, 46 samples were collected.
  • On May 24, GFIA submitted their short-term stormwater characterization study (STSWCS) plan to EGLE Water Resource Division (WRD) and subsequently approved by WRD.
  • On May 30, 2019 GFIA responded to EGLE Remediation and Redevelopment Division's (RRD) April letter highlighting their recent accomplishments and that they will not be submitting a workplan for how they will continue their on-site PFAS investigation to RRD at this time.
  • In a July 12 letter, GFIA committed to provide EGLE Remediation and Redevelopment Division a plan for additional on-site investigation by August 15th.
  • On August 14th, GFIA provided EGLE Remediation and Redevelopment Division (RRD) a draft Phase 3 work plan for additional on-site PFAS investigation.
  • In 2019, GFIA started to test their firefighting emergency response equipment using Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved practices that do not require AFFF to be dispensed onto the ground. Therefore, AFFF use at GFIA is required now only during actual firefighting emergency response events.
  • On September 23, 2019, EGLE Remediation and Redevelopment Division (RRD) and GFIA performed a site walk down to enhance collaboration toward the development of GFIA's Phase 3 on-site PFAS investigation work plan.
  • On October 4, 2019, GFIA provided EGLE RRD a revised Phase 3 on-site PFAS investigation workplan.
  • In December 2019, GFIA executed their Phase 3 on-site PFAS investigation workplan.
  • On December 30, 2019, GFIA provided EGLE Water Resources Division (WRD) a report summarizing findings of their short-term storm water characterization study (STSWCS). Storm water samples collected from the Outfall 11 sample location indicate results above EGLE's non-drinking water quality standard for PFOS.
  • GFIA has initiated a potential source investigation and is evaluating potential for PFAS reduction in the Outfall 11 discharge.
  • In January 2020, GFIA participated in the EGLE PFAS containing AFFF pick-up program.
  • On February 18, 2020, EGLE received from GFIA the Phase 3 on-site PFAS investigation results which was executed in December 2019. 
  • On April 15, 2020, GFIA presented their review of EGLE residential drinking water well sample results from Cascade Township, local geology and historic records concluding that septic seepage is a plausible explanation for the observed spatial distribution of PFAS results.
  • On February 25, 2020, EGLE and GFIA met to discuss Phase 3 on-site PFAS investigation results. Shallow groundwater results were below EGLE drinking water criteria (highest total PFAS was 328 ppt). Deep groundwater results were also below EGLE drinking water criteria (highest total PFAS was 49 ppt).  Surficial soil results exceeded the criteria for PFOS for soil protective of the groundwater-surface water interface (GSI).
  • On May 1, 2020, EGLE issued a compliance communication letter informing GFIA of their liability under Part 201 for PFAS contamination on airport property.

Historical Sampling Chart: data is reflective of criteria prior to 8/3/2020:

This chart reflects data received prior to 8/3/2020.

Type of Sample

Date Sampled

Number of Samples

Number of Results Received

Number of Non-detects

Number Between Non-detect and standard*

Number of > Standard

Deep Groundwater Apr 2018 -
Dec 2019
35 35 7 28 0

Shallow Groundwater

May 2018 -
Dec 2019
12 12 0 11 1

Residential Wells

Jul 2018 -
Aug 2018

28 28 27 1 0
Residential Wells
Apr 2018 -
Oct 2018
22 22 11 11 0
Surface Water Aug 2018 -
Sep 2018
5 5 0 5 0
Soil May 2018 - 
Dec 2019
118 118 37 24 57
Storm Water July - Oct 2019 4 4 0 0 4
Cumulative   224 224 82 80 62

*Groundwater results are compared to EGLE Part 201 Criteria of 70 ppt.
*Residential well results are compared to the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 ppt.
*Soil results are compared to EGLE Part 201 Criteria of 240 ppt PFOS and 10 million ppt PFOA.
*Surface water / stormwater results compared to EGLE Rule 57 non-drinking water values of 12 ppt PFOS and 12000 ppt PFOA.
*Other PFAS analytes were detected in samples. There are no federal or state standards for these analytes.


  • On August 4, 2020, Michigan Department of Transportation awarded GFIA a $249,904 grant to support monitoring and testing on airport property for PFAS contamination. $250,000 was the maximum that could be awarded under the grant.
  • On October 9, 2020, EGLE issued GFIA a communication compliance letter notifying them of their liability for PFAS contamination found in off-site residential drinking water wells and requested GFIA take response actions.  Visit Cascade Township Residential Wells Area of Interest (AOI) webpage for more details on off-site residential drinking water well contamination.
  • On November 6, 2020, GFIA responded to EGLE's October 9, 2020 communication compliance letter.
  • On December 9, 2020, EGLE issued GFIA a violation notice letter.
  • On January 4, 2021, GFIA responded to EGLE's December 9, 2020 VN.
  • On April 19th, 2021, EGLE, MPART, DHHS, KCHD and Cascade Township met virtually with the Safe Water for Cascade community group.