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Wurtsmith Air Force Base boosts PFAS clean-up with added carbon filtration

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) today announced that the United States Air Force (USAF) has started up an additional granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration system to capture historic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination caused by the use of firefighting foam at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base near Oscoda.

The requirements for the new GAC system were laid out by the DEQ in October 2016 to address discharges of untreated groundwater to the Au Sable River and Van Etten Creek.

The USAF did not meet a year-end 2017 deadline to have the new system operational and received a violation notice from the DEQ in January 2018, said Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) director Carol Isaacs.

“While we are disappointed the Air Force missed the initial deadline, we are pleased to finally have a new treatment system in place and hope it marks a new era of cooperation between MPART, Oscoda Township, and the Department of Defense,” Isaacs said.

Negotiations between the USAF and Oscoda Township over the location of the GAC system and access to the township’s storm sewer system were resolved earlier this month.

Designed for future expansion, this is the second GAC system on the former military base. The first system became operational in April 2015 near a former firefighting training area.

PFAS compounds are a group of emerging and potentially harmful contaminants used in thousands of applications globally including firefighting foam, food packaging, and many other consumer products.  These compounds also are used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers, and clothing manufacturers. The discovery of PFAS contamination is a nationally growing trend across the United States.

In January 2018, the DEQ acted to set a new clean-up standard for PFAS in groundwater used for drinking water of 70 parts per trillion for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) combined.  Michigan is one of only a handful of states to establish a clean-up standard. 

MPART is overseeing the state’s $23 million effort to locate PFAS contamination, identify sources, and oversee remediation activities aimed at protecting the state’s water resources and mitigating risks to the public. For more information visit the MPART website: