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Gov. Whitmer Celebrates PFAS Clean Up at Wurtsmith Base After Yearslong Effort to Fight Contamination
August 17, 2023
USAF heeds requests from governor, congressional delegation, local leaders to proactively reduce PFAS contamination in Oscoda
LANSING, Mich. — Governor Gretchen Whitmer today welcomed the United States Air Force’s (USAF) announcement that it would take immediate action to mitigate PFAS groundwater contamination at Wurtsmith Air Force Base. This decision comes after a yearslong effort by state, federal, and local leaders to advocate for decisive action to protect the Oscoda community.
“Today, after years of advocacy and action by state government, our congressional delegation, and so many community leaders, the USAF is stepping up their response by taking additional actions to tackle PFAS contamination around Wurtsmith Air Force Base and prioritize the health and safety of Michiganders in the area,” said Governor Whitmer. “I am grateful to everyone who fought so hard to get this done, and I am grateful to the USAF for taking actions that support Michigan’s strong standards against pollution, PFAS, and other contaminants. Every Michigander in every community deserves clean air, safe water, and a healthy community. Today’s decision to actively tackle PFAS in Oscoda will make a real difference in people’s lives. Let’s stay vigilant about pollution and continue working together to protect our families, our communities, and our extraordinary natural resources.”
“This announcement is a positive step in our yearslong effort pressing the Air Force to address PFAS contamination at Wurtsmith,” said U.S. Senator Gary 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.”
“For far too long, Oscoda and surrounding communities have lived with the impact of PFAS contamination created by the Department of Defense,” said Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin (MI-07). The actions announced last night – adding groundwater treatment systems at two new sites – are a positive step forward, even with much more work to do. Last month, I met with Under Secretary LaPlante from DoD to urge specific, concrete, remedial actions at four sites, as recommended by leaders in Oscoda – and last week followed it up with a letter. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will continue to work with community members and my colleagues in Congress to press the Pentagon to quickly implement the actions announced last night and adopt additional protections for the community.”
“Michigan has been widely recognized as a national leader in responding to PFAS contamination and today’s announcement further demonstrates that when we work together on a bipartisan basis to protect people and the environment, we can do great things,” said Phillip Roos, Director of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). “EGLE would like to thank the Governor, Michigan’s congressional delegation, and the people of Oscoda for helping us in our effort to bring additional clean-up resources to the former Wurtsmith base. EGLE remains committed to the long-term restoration of this site and looks forward to continued oversight of these expanding efforts.”
“This is an important—and long overdue—step for Wurtsmith, and the result of years of work by our community and a team of bipartisan elected officials, including Congresswoman Slotkin and Governor Whitmer, who’ve worked tirelessly on our behalf,” said Tony Spaniola of Need Our Water in Oscoda. “We are grateful to each of them, and to Under Secretary LaPlante, for their leadership, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to get additional interim remedies implemented at Wurtsmith, and at other military installations across the country, without further delay.”
Governor Whitmer’s Actions to Tackle Wurtsmith Contamination
In September 2020, the Governor reached out to Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment, John Henderson, urging the USAF to comply with State of Michigan standards for PFAS in the clean-up efforts at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (AFB) near
In March 2021, she corresponded with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, highlighting the state’s recently adopted, nation-leading standards on PFAS. The letter sought commitment from the Department of Defense (DoD) to meet or exceed Michigan’s standards at all sites of PFAS contamination that originated from DoD activities, including remedial work at the former Wurtsmith AFB.
In July 2022, the Governor spoke up again, this time to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience, Richard Kidd, and Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Dr. Bill LaPlante. This letter highlighted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new drinking water health advisories that established lower federal thresholds for PFAS chemicals. Specifically, they called for a maximum of .02 ppt for PFOS and .004 ppt for PFOA, reduced significantly from the previous advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for both PFOS and PFOA. The Governor urged the DoD to incorporate the EPA’s new guidelines on PFAS set forth in the when setting screening levels and cleanup standards for contamination caused by DoD sites, like Wurtsmith AFB.
USAF PFAS Actions
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Dr. Bill LaPlante announced the
USAF will undertake two new actions to expedite the cleanup of DoD’s PFAS releases at the former Wurtsmith AFB in Iosco County.
These efforts will prevent further migration of PFAS-impacted groundwater into adjacent surface waters. Specifically, the USAF will install groundwater treatment systems at two additional Wurtsmith sites: 1) the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, and 2) Landfills 30/31. This will stop the flow of PFAS-impacted groundwater from both source areas into nearby Van Etten Lake.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of over 4,000 man-made chemicals that have been used in several industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s. PFAS have been used in non-stick cookware, fast food packaging, water-repellent jackets, stain-resistant carpets or furniture, cosmetics, and firefighting foams. PFAS are stable chemicals, breaking down slowly in the environment, such that they accumulate over time, and they also are highly soluble, easily transferring through soil to groundwater. As a result, they are persistent in the environment and in the human body. According to the CDC, over 95% of the U.S. population has PFAS in their bodies. While research is ongoing, there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. People can be exposed to PFAS in a variety of ways, including working at locations where PFAS are produced or used in manufacturing, through the water they drink or the foods they eat, or when PFAS are released during normal use, biodegradation, or disposal of consumer products containing PFAS.
Whitmer-Gilchrist Administration PFAS Actions
Michigan’s proactive and transparent approach to PFAS contamination is widely recognized as a national model for action on PFAS. In 2019, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order (EO) 2019-3. This EO made the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) an established, enduring body and directed MPART to increase citizen engagement, transparency and accountability in the ongoing state efforts to identify PFAS contamination and protect public health.
Since MPART was established, the team has sampled all public water supplies throughout Michigan, established some of the nation’s most comprehensive health-based regulations limiting 7 PFAS chemicals in drinking water supplies, developed groundwater cleanup criteria for the same 7 PFAS, identified 262 sites to date where one or more of the 7 PFAS compounds exceed standards, removed more than 60,000 gallons of firefighting foam from Michigan’s fire stations and airport as part of a pickup and disposal program, and so much more.
The governor also created the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate to elevate the concerns of residents and investigate complaints related to drinking water and has partnered with Attorney General Nessel to hold PFAS polluters accountable for their contamination. While the State of Michigan has made significant progress on PFAS, additional action remains necessary to protect from the wide-ranging effects of PFAS contamination.
The Governor also signed an executive directive that limited the purchase of nonessential products that contain PFAS. The State of Michigan has $2.5 billion worth of purchasing power annually, and the ED directed the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB) to purchase PFAS-free products whenever possible. At the state-level, PFAS are primarily found in seating and office furniture, carpets, and sanitary supplies.
View the full executive directive: Executive Directive 2021-08.
In addition to MPART and the state’s work, the state has made critical investments to protect our waters. Since January 2019, the State of Michigan has leveraged state and federal resources to invest more than $4 billion to upgrade drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater facilities across the state—including significant investments to address and mitigate PFAS contamination, supporting over 57,000 jobs.