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PFAS Water Contamination Wurtsmith Air Force (WAFB) Oscoda, Michigan, was discovered over two decades ago. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) discovered PFOA and PFOS in groundwater in March 2010 when EGLE staff sampled groundwater at a former fire training area on the Base. The Base, previously known as Oscoda Army Air Field, Camp Skeel, and Oscoda Air Force Base, was operational between 1923 and 1993. Before its closure, the WAFB had over 690 civilian workers and over 3,000 military personnel.

The Air Force had been using PFAS-based AFFF to put out flames during firefighting training activities at the Base since the 1970s when the military adopted the PFAS firefighting foam until the Base closed. The spent firefighting foam and accidental spills would percolate into groundwater, which the Base residents used for drinking. Studies have linked PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) to various illnesses and cancer.

Evidence of PFAS Water Contamination Wurtsmith Air Force

Military veterans and families stationed in northern Michigan drank water contaminated with PFAS. Water samples collected from old fire hydrants at the former Air Base contained a wide range of forever chemicals, including PFOS, PFOA, PFBA, PFPeA, PFHxA, PFHpA, PFNA, PFDA, PFUnDA, PFDoDA, PFTrDA, PFTeDA, PFHxDA, PFODA, PFBS, PFHxS, PFHpS and PFDS. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) checked about 240 hydrants, a water softener tank, and a water heater and collected measurable water samples.

The Bldg 5350 – water softener tank had PFOS/PFOA levels of 300ppt, while the Bldg 5065 – water heater PFOS/PFOA was 960ppt. The fire hydrants’ combined PFOS and PFOS tests ranged from 7.7ppt to 7,400ppt.

Fire hydrant No. 57 tested for the highest PFOA/PFOS levels of 7,400 ppt, while hydrant 75 tested 4380ppt. The water had stagnated in these hydrants’ catch basins outside the pipes connecting these hydrants to the main water lines. These levels of PFOA and PFOS in the groundwater at the former military base were up to 10,000 times higher than the former LTHA of 70ppt.

PFAS Water Contamination Wurtsmith Air Force and Migration

US Air Force (USAF) base-wide PFAS sampling occurred between 2012 and 2013. From 2015 to 2016, a preliminary assessment (PA) and site inspection (SI) were conducted, followed by an expanded site inspection (ESI) in 2018/2019, during which the USAF installed a central treatment plant for PFOS/PFOA and implemented measures to remove PFOS/PFOA.

Areas of interest at the Base included FT02, CTS, and MPTS. Between June 2015 and December 2017, the FT02 pump and treatment system removed 13.38 lbs of PFOS. During the same period, the pump removed 2.67 lbs of PFOA.

Two hundred seventy-seven wells were sampled during the round one resampling effort. One hundred forty-one wells contained PFOA/PFOS, while 136 were non-detected. Twenty of the detected wells had PFOS/PFOA exceeding the comparison values. The PFOA/PFOS detected ranged from 2.05ppt to 263.62ppt.

A study analyzing groundwater for perfluoro octane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoro carboxylates (PFCAs) using negative-ion electrospray ionization mass spectrometry, showed that water samples from wells around the WAFB fire-training area FTA-02 contained four perfluorinated surfactants concentration ranging from 3 to 120ppt. These toxic compounds were detected five years after they were last used at the Base.

PFAS from AFFF also migrated through the Ocada area, contaminating neighboring groundwater sources. In 2015, the Air Force tested dozens of private wells close to the Base for PFOA and PFOS. Groundwater from a private well located between Van Etten Lake and the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County tested PFOA of 3,300ppt, PFOS 96ppt, and 12,000 ppt for perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), another form of PFAS.

The Airforce provided alternative drinking water to the household and connected it to the municipal drinking water. At the time, EPA’s provisional health advisories for PFOS were 200 ppt and PFOA 400 ppt. There was no action in private wells with PFOA/PFOS below these limits because the agency had not published the former lifetime health advisory for combined PFOS and PFOA of 70 ppt.

Air Force off-base testing conducted in 2016 reported PFOS concentrations of up to 27.8ppt and the highest PFOA of 51ppt. Whispering Woods sampling reported PFOS of 6 and 9.6 ppt, while PFOA levels were below the detectable levels. Twenty-three residential location wells were also sampled. Eight wells reported PFOS ranging from 10.6 to 27.8 ppt and PFOA between 17.7 ppt and 51 ppt.

In late 2015, the Air Force sampled private water wells potentially impacted by PFAS in groundwater and detected PFOA or PFOS in 10 of 28 wells sampled. The PFOA detected ranged from 0.017 to 0.051 µg/L, and PFOS between 0.006 and 0.028µg/L.

Due to the toxic nature of the chemicals contained in the water bodies in the region surrounding the WAFB, the government issued a “do not eat advisory” for fish in 2012 and deer in 2018. Muscle and liver samples collected from 44 deer (14 male, 30 female) showed high levels of PFAS and mercury. Fish in Clark’s Marsh and other small lakes south of the Base tested for the highest levels of PFOS ever detected.

The migration of PFAS from the areas of release to the neighboring water sources has been a major concern. In 2015, the Air Force installed a single pump-and-treat system at Wurtsmith to intercept PFAS-contaminated groundwater at Fire Training Area No.2 before the groundwater reached surface water. However, groundwater with high levels of PFAS might still be moving off-base toward the neighboring drinking water wells.

Military Lawsuits PFAS Water Contamination Wurtsmith Air Force base

Military bases and surrounding communities have been exposed to PFAS in drinking water since the military introduced the PFAS-AFFF in the 1970s. The US Department of Veteran Affairs acknowledges the health effects of PFAS exposure to the military and their families through AFFF-contaminated drinking water. Veterans and families exposed to PFAS (PFOS and PFOA) at the Wurtsmith Air Base and suffering from PFAS-related illness are encouraged to file lawsuits for compensation for pain and suffering.

Contact Hugh Stephens at Stephens and Stephens for a free case evaluation. Our rates are contingency-based. The defendants in the PFAS drinking water contamination at US military bases include the leading product manufacturers: 3M, Buckeye Fire Equipment, Kidde, The Chemours Company FC, LLC, Chemguard Inc, Tyco Fire Products LP, National Foam Inc, BASF Corporation and Dynax Corporation. These AFFF manufacturers knew or should have known about the health effects of PFAS-based firefighting foam and warned the government and the public about it.

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs, are a large group of artificial compounds with certain properties, including resistance to fire and repelance to water, stain, grease, and oil. Since the 1970s, PFASs have been used to manufacture firefighting foam. Other uses include fast food wrappers and nonstick cookware. Manufacturers of PFAS-based firefighting foam are phasing out the product, replacing it with alternative Fluorine-Free Foams.

In June 2022, the EPA issued a new lifetime health advisory for PFAS levels in drinking water, replacing the previous combined LHAs of 70ppt. PFOA’s interim updated health advisory is 0.004 ppt for PFOA and PFOS 0.02 ppt. These changes resulted from new findings linking PFOA and PFOS close to zero to adverse health effects. These advisory levels were calculated, offering a margin of protection against PFAS-related health problems. They identify safe levels, taking into account sensitive populations and life stages.

PFAS have been manufactured in the US since the 1940s. However, the adverse health effects of PFAS were discovered in the 2000s when human blood samples were found to contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). They are long chains of carbon-fluorine bonds that persist and accumulate in the environment and can enter the human body through food, air, and water. These toxins can remain in the human body for eight to nine years. Thus, it can accumulate with continued exposure, increasing the risk of PFAS-related health effects. There are currently no known ways of removing PFAS from the human body, but the effects can be avoided through exposure prevention.

Health effects of PFAS (PFOS and PFOA)

Some recent studies have shown a high prevalence of testicular cancer among Air Force service members. Also, a federal study links high PFOS and PFOA levels in military personnel blood samples to testicular cancer. A case study by the National Cancer Institute and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences research established that the military and veterans with testicular cancer had higher PFOS/PFOA concentrations in their blood than those without the illness.

The ATSDR and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) requested the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to form a PFAS exposure ad hoc committee. The 2022 NASEM report Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-Up indicated sufficient evidence associating PFAS exposure and decreased antibody response, dyslipidemia, and increased risk of kidney cancer. The report also found suggestive evidence linking PFAS exposure to increased risk of breast cancer, liver enzyme alterations, pregnancy-induced hypertension, testicular cancer, thyroid disease/dysfunction, and ulcerative colitis. Also, a large clinical study conducted in August 2022 linked people with high levels of PFAS in their blood to an increased risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, a common form of liver cancer.

Veterans affected by PFAS exposure through military base-contaminated drinking water must prove their PFAS exposure. Getting a good AFFF contamination attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve.

The DAV Resolution No. 072 urges Congress to enact legislation to create and maintain a registry for eligible individuals who may have been exposed to PFAS to ascertain and monitor the health effects of the exposure of Armed Forces members. It also suggests the establishment of a concession of exposure for all veterans who served at military locations with PFAS water contamination to remove the burden of proof of exposure. The DAV suggested the following PFAS exposure presumptive conditions:

Are you a victim of PFAS Water Contamination Wurtsmith Air Force Base?

Were you or a loved one diagnosed with a PFAS-related illness after residing at the Wurtsmith Air Force Base? Stephens and Stephens LLP are investigating military base AFFF-PFAS water contamination cases. Hugh Stephens, Esq. is an experienced environmental litigator and will explore your case. Contact us for a free case evaluation.



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