Air Force has no plans to speed cleanup at Wurtsmith base

By Garret Ellison | MLive | April 17, 2020

Read the full article by Garret Ellison (MLive)

“OSCODA, MI — Hopes that a major cash infusion would accelerate groundwater cleanup at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base were dashed when military engineers reported they plan to spend several more years investigating pollution that’s already been under study for a decade.

Activists and members of a local advisory board sharply criticized plans to use $13.5 million from a recent Congressional appropriation to conduct a comprehensive investigation around the old base, saying that money should instead be used to install new systems to capture the toxic PFAS chemical plumes contaminating local water bodies.

They argue the Air Force should be taking interim measures to address the contamination now rather than gathering data which the state of Michigan already has.

‘The Air Force can walk and chew gum at the same time,’ said Anthony Spaniola, a Troy attorney who owns a family cottage on Van Etten Lake across from the Oscoda Township beach, which is regularly beset by toxic surface water foam.

‘This was an arbitrary decision made by the Department of Defense without regard for the safety and health of the people of Oscoda,’ Spaniola said.

Spaniola’s comments came during a local Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting on Wednesday, April 15. The semi-regular meeting was held virtually rather than in-person because of limits on public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sluggish Air Force remedial process is a sore spot for Oscoda residents. Timelines shared during the meeting do not appear to be much different than earlier projections about the drawn-out project’s potential length.

Related: Oscoda goes a decade without cleanup plan

David Gibson of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, who recently took over as project manager at Wurtsmith, told board members that the earliest any new remediation, or cleanup, efforts might begin is probably sometime in 2024.

‘We’ve got to look at a judicious collection of data to get us to the point where we can develop interim action,’ Gibson said.

In December, the Air Force finished what’s known as an Expanded Site Investigation, or ESI, in which it re-examined the threat posed to drinking water wells in the area. The next step is to award a contract in September to begin a base-wide remedial investigation, or RI, that would last until 2022. After that, a feasibility study and more protracted bureaucratic decision-making steps would come before any cleanup system could begin design or construction.

The Air Force says a slower approach is warranted because the chemicals haven’t contaminated drinking water sources as badly in Oscoda as they have at other U.S. military bases around the world. At latest count, there are 651 active or former bases where the use of chemical-laden firefighting foam called AFFF is known or suspected to have caused pollution. Defense officials recently told The Hill newspaper that overall cleanup could take 30 years…”

This content provided by the PFAS Project.