AF to conduct follow-on sampling, launch remedial investigation at Wurtsmith

  • Published
  • By Breanne Humphreys
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center

The Air Force will soon conduct a second round of drinking water sampling and is preparing to launch a focused remedial investigation to determine if chemicals from firefighting foam used at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan, pose a risk to drinking water supplies.

Air Force officials announced the sampling during a public meeting in Oscoda, April 25. The Air Force began sampling private wells in the area in 2015 in response to an Environmental Protection Agency health advisory for perfluorooctanoic and perfluorooctanesulfonic acids, or PFOS and PFOA. The compounds are commonly found and are present in firefighting foam used by the Air Force, military services and commercial industry. The initial sampling revealed one private well with PFOS/PFOA at levels above the EPA advisory.

The Air Force will re-sample 54 private drinking wells and two municipal wells news near the installation to determine if PFOS/PFOA levels have changed since the first round of sampling, said Paul Carroll, Wurtsmith Base Environment Coordinator for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

“Conducting follow-on sampling in June during peak pumping season allows the Air Force to evaluate seasonal variations,” he said.

The Air Force completed a base-wide records review of Wurtsmith in early 2015 identifying 17 potential areas Aqueous Film Forming Foam may have been released. Subsequent site inspection work concluded in 2016 and the Focused Remedial Investigation to evaluate the extent of contamination and determine the potential threat to drinking water sources will begin in July, Carroll said.

 “Our actions are data driven,” he said. “Data and site information helps us map plume migration and potential pathways to drinking water so we can continue to protect human health which is our priority.”

Carroll said the Air Force will also install a system to mitigate discharges from two existing pump and treat systems into Van Etten Creek. The Air Force installed a similar system to cut off contaminant discharges from a former fire training area into Clark’s Marsh in April 2015.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has been conducting sampling beyond the former base’s perimeter to further assess plume magnitude and path. No additional drinking water sources associated with the Wurtsmith base plume sampled by MDEQ have tested above the EPA HA since the last public meeting in October 2016, said Bob Delaney, MDEQ Environmental Quality Specialist.

“There has to be aggressive approach to remove the contaminants from the environment,” Delaney said. “Right now the best option is to reduce exposure and pump and treat the water.”

Approximately 150 members of the Oscoda community and Air Force representatives attended a public meeting hosted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services April 25 to discuss the ongoing response to contamination from the compounds.

Community members questioned why the Air Force will not comply with a Michigan public act requiring the service to reimburse the state when it elects to provide an alternate water supply, even when contaminant levels are below the EPA’s advisory limits.

The discriminatory nature of the mandate to the federal government prevents the Air Force from complying legally, Carroll explained.

“The Michigan law is not one of general applicability since it only applies to federal and state agencies — not to all entities or persons who may have impacted the water of state citizens,” he said. “We will provide alternate drinking water to those affected above the HA and continue to work closely with state officials and keep residents informed.”

To maintain open dialogue with the community, the Air Force is re-establishing a Restoration Advisory Board for Wurtsmith. The advisory group enables stakeholder and community involvement in the environmental process.

“You don’t have to be a chemical engineer to be a RAB member,” said Bill Palmer, RAB selection committee member. “You just have to be willing to listen, ask questions and be a conduit for information for our community — it’s important for our community to be involved.”

The Air Force anticipates RAB member selection to be complete by June and the first RAB meeting to take place late summer.

Interested RAB applicants can download an application online here, or call AFCEC Public Affairs at 210-925-0956 to request a copy. Applications can be submitted via email to or dropped off at the Oscoda Township Townhall.