Oscoda residents protest meeting, doubt PFAS cleanup efforts

By: - July 17, 2019 6:03 am

Oscoda Township Supervisor Aaron Weed at Clark’s Marsh | Michael Gerstein

Environmental advocates in Oscoda had little interest in a Tuesday evening town hall meeting put on by the state. Rather, they want to see the U.S. Air Force held accountable for groundwater contamination caused by toxic PFAS chemicals. 

The lingering per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances have been found in almost 200 sites around the state. 

Air Force agrees to additional PFAS cleanup in Oscoda

The Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club environmental group and local advocacy group Need Our Water protested Tuesday’s meeting in Oscoda held by the Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), chanting “Nine years, no plan, no action,” Michigan Radio reported. 

Firefighting foam was used in training procedures at the nearby shuttered Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda and then leached into the soil and underground water. EGLE also has said that the Air Force dumped untreated water containing PFAS into Van Etten Creek, which flows into Van Etten Lake and eventually Lake Huron.

As the Advance has reported, residents are concerned about the health impacts of the chemicals, as well as the impact on fishing, tourism and land values.

EPA issues weaker cleanup rules for toxic PFAS chemicals

The Air Force has agreed to clean up the chemicals at the former base, using Michigan’s ground and surface water standard of 12 parts per trillion in investigating and sampling PFAS pollution in Oscoda. No representatives from the U.S. Air Force attended the meeting, Michigan Radio reported.

But environmental groups and residents in the northeastern Michigan town worry the deal between the military and EGLE only allows the federal government to delay remediation.

“This is a big nothing burger that gives the Air Force yet another excuse to continue to delay the cleanup efforts long demanded by residents,” Anthony Spaniola, an Oscoda resident and attorney, said in a statement. 

Peters in Oscoda
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and Air Force Assistant Secretary John Henderson | Michael Gerstein

“The Air Force has had nine years to deal with this problem — and they’re still in stall mode,” Spaniola continued. “PFAS plumes are continuously, and illegally, polluting our water and wildlife. There is no excuse for further delays.”

Air Force officials and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) also met with angry residents back in April, as the Advance reported at the time. Air Force Assistant Secretary John Henderson told residents it could take at least another four years of investigation before starting a formal cleanup.

MLive reporter Garret Ellison, in a series of tweets, documented some of the town’s ongoing frustration with the cleanup process during the Tuesday town hall meeting hosted by EGLE. 

For its part, EGLE says it’s continuing to work with residents and that the agreement with the Air Force is just a first step, according to reports.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.