• 1960s: 3M creates AFFF with US Navy
  • 1972: FIRE PIT PLUME begins as firefighters train with the new 3M firefighter foam in the open gravel fire pit from ~1972 until 1982 (10 years). Natural surface and underground water flow carry PFAS contaminate through Clark’s Marsh into the Au Sable river on the way to Lake Huron. No main water supply wells are nearby. Stand-alone well AF25 is drilled near the fire pit the same year and is still operational today. Recent peak PFAS Concentration in the plume is 1,200,000 ppt
    • 1982: Fire training continues at the fire pit with a new concrete basin and water oil separator (see “1982: Clark’s Marsh Plume” below). 
  • 1970s: 3M studies confirm PFAS is toxic to humans
  • 1977: Wurtsmith AFB officials and US Geological Survey (USGS) team, learn that chemicals poured on the ground, migrate to drinking water wells, contaminating the base water supply system
  • 1970-1980s: Wright Patterson AFB studies acknowledge and confirm PFAS in AFFF is toxic to humans The Wright Patterson AFB Biochemical Toxicology Branch, Toxic Hazards Division, Air Force Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory studies toxicity of a longer chain PFAS from January 1980 through December 1981. Report states “The acute and subchronic toxicity of ammonium perfluoro-n-octanoate (PFOA) has been described in detail in both rats and rhesus monkeys (Griffith and Long, 1980).” Like PFOS, PFOA was a known component of AFFF.
  • 1982: CLARK’S MARSH PLUME begins as oil-water separator installed at firepit redirects PFAS laden water to the wastewater treatment plant. Fire training slows to roughly once a month. The treatment plant does not filter out PFAS and releases the PFAS laden water into Clark’s Marsh. Natural surface and underground water flow draw contaminate to the Au Sable river on its way to Lake Huron.
  • 1982: HORSESHOE PLUME begins with the disposal of AFFF off the east taxiways near the fire department. Natural surface and underground water flows continue to carry PFAS contamination to Van Etten Lake on its way to Lake Huron. Recent peak PFAS concentration in plume is 43,000 ppt
  • 1985: Three new main wells supplying all the base water via the water tower are drilled directly in the path of the horseshoe plume, which flows naturally underground toward Van Etten Lake. The new wells transport the PFAS laden potable water to all the military and civilians, and their families living and working on base. After PFAS contaminated water is consumed, the water continues to the Wurtsmith main sewer, where all the PFAS is ultimately discharged into Clark’s Marsh from 1985 to 1997.
  • 1988: CRASH SITE PLUME begins October 11, 1988 after AFFF used to put out the KC-135A crash fire. Six crew members lost their lives that day. The plume continues to move underground toward the Ausable River as pump and treat plants subtly alter its direction of flow. 
  • 1989: BURKHART LODGE PLUME begins January 1989, retracing the path already established by the volatile chemical Pierce’s Point Plume. Natural underground water flow draws PFAS plume to Van Etten Lake and across active standalone well AF22.
  • 1991: OPERATIONS PLUME begins when foam was dispensed during initial system testing of hanger 5063 fire suppression system and hosed out of the facility. Other spills are also in the area, which likely occurred before and after this time. Natural surface and underground water flow carry PFAS contamination through Tucker’s Swamp toward 3-pipes drain into Van Etten Creek and the Au Sable river on the way to Lake Huron. This plume passes through wells AF18 and AF19. AF18 was a main water supply well and was removed from service in 1978; Well AF18 was not likely impacted by PFAS when in use. Well AF19 was a main water supply well until 1985 when the well became a supplemental main well and was only removed from service for a few months in the late 1970s. Well AF19 was likely contaminated with some level of PFAS when used as a supplemental well from 1991 to 1993.
  • 1991: Alert ends September 27, 1991
  • 1993: Wurtsmith Air Force Base closes June 30, 1993
  • 1997-8: Wurtsmith main water source switches over to the Huron Regional Municipal water system and the WAFB sewer treatment plant is closed

i Final Environmental Impact Statement Wurtsmith Air Force Base September 1993, July 1994, p 3-50 and Public Health Assessment Wurtsmith Air Force Base Oscoda, Iosco County, Michigan EPA Facility ID: MI5570024278, p A-29

ii PFC Concentrations in Water Retained within Fire Hydrants at Former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB), January 3, 2017 and Capture Zone Delineation at Former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB), August 2018

“History will likely record that the groundwater chemical contamination on military installations harmed our Veterans like Agent Orange in Vietnam and the burn pits in Iraq. Unlike the chemical contamination of veterans on foreign soil, the groundwater contamination at home unfortunately impacted the warfighter’s families and the surrounding communities” (OVERWHELMED: A Civilian Casualty of Cold War Poison, 2019, p. 277)

AUTHOR: This bulletin was written by Craig Minor

  • Co-author of “OVERWHELMED: A Civilian Casualty of Cold War Poison; Mitchell’s Memoir, As told by His Dad, Mom, Sister, & Brother, 2019.” Available on Amazon in Paperback, Kindle, and Audiobook. Mitchell was born profoundly handicapped on Wurtsmith Air Force Base October 6, 1989 at the height of the Cold War and during the peak PFAS contamination from firefighter foam. Go to mitchellsmemoir.com
  • US Air Force, retired. Wurtsmith Air Force Base B-52G Aircraft Commander; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base NT-39A Instructor Research Pilot and Senior Acquisition Manager
  • Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Averett University, Danville, Virginia, 1984
  • Master of Business Administration in Finance, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio 2004
  • Juris Doctor in Law, Capital University law School, Columbus, Ohio, 2013