Two distinct groups of people were harmed by the Air Force’s practice of releasing Aqueous Film Forming Foam (Abbreviated AFFF and pronounced ‘a-triple-f’) straight into the Wurtsmith Air Force Base (Wurtsmith) environment after 1970.
1985-1997; Airman, Civilians, Children, and Pregnant Mothers: The first group harmed by the firefighter foam were the Airman, civilians, children, and pregnant mothers living and working on Wurtsmith until the former base cutover to the nearby municipal water supply system. The base wide drinking water contamination began March 1985 when three new wells supplying all the potable water to the residential, community, and operations buildings on base were located next to an AFFF disposal site active from 1982 through 1992 (10 years). On average, an estimated PFAS concentration of 65,000 parts per trillion (ppt) was drawn into the new wells and distributed base wide from the water tower; a concentration nearly 1000x higher than the EPA’s daily consumption health advisory level of 70 ppt. According to the EPA, laboratory animal and human epidemiological “studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including
- developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations),
- cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney),
- liver effects (e.g., tissue damage),
- immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity),
- thyroid effects and
- other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes).”
Today the EPA suggests drinking water systems and public health officials to notify consumers if PFOS and PFOA are above the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt in their drinking water. The EPA further suggests giving notice so as to highlight the risks to fetuses during pregnancy and children while breastfed.
PFAS exposure of America’s warriors and their families at Wurtsmith is now several decades old. The drinking water exposure was well above toxic levels from 1985 through 1997. My profoundly handicapped son was born at Wurtsmith October 6, 1989. Today, samples of my blood show PFAS levels 3.5X than the national average. I have an enlarged liver, spleen, and prostate with significant autoimmune issues accompanied by chronic pain and fatigue. After years of testing, doctors still don’t know why.
The firefighter foam used on Wurtsmith is harmful to humans, and to suggest otherwise would be irresponsible. The poisoning happened on federal land and in the performance of duty. Some might suggest that before helping our veterans, epidemiological studies are necessary to correlate our veteran’s health outcomes with the individual PFAS molecules in the firefighter foam. This made sense in 1980 (40 years ago) when the Air Force knew PFASs were harmful to humans. This also made sense again in 2002 (18 years ago) when 3M in coordination with our government stopped making the firefighter foam predominately used by the DoD. Starting a lengthy multi-year epidemiological study today, that should have been done years ago while doing nothing for veterans today, would be wrong. Time is up! Generations of warriors and their families are disappearing to eternity. What needs to happen now is 1) creating a list of health conditions from other studies and make these conditions presumptive for veterans and their families who were stationed at Wurtsmith AFB between March 1, 1985, and December 31, 1997, for a minimum of 30 days; and 2) begin a long overdue epidemiological study to correlate veteran and their families health outcomes from their medical records with their time at Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Conducting this health study would be beneficial for all US citizens poisoned by PFAS.
IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED: The federal government needs to 1) create a list of health conditions from other studies and make these conditions presumptive for veterans and their families who were stationed at Wurtsmith Air Force Base between March 1, 1985, and December 31, 1997, for a minimum of 30 days; and 2) then add to this list by conducting the long overdue epidemiological studies necessary to correlate veteran and their families health outcomes from their medical records with their time at Wurtsmith (Only the DoD has the information to do this study)
1970-2020: Oscoda Community: The second group of people harmed by the firefighter foam are the Oscoda Township families and visitors exposed to contaminates leaking past the former Wurtsmith boundaries, which continues to this day. Two of the larger PFAS groundwater plumes are impacting the surrounding communities and requires immediate action to stop the migration of the plumes into the surface waterways and community wells.
The ‘Horseshoe Plume’ is the second largest plume and is being naturally drawn into Van Etten Lake, where agitated water from wave action and boats is creating a white foam with a PFAS concentration over 200,000 ppt. The white foam is visible along the lake’s recreational shoreline and is the most significant plume impacting the local community. The harm is not only environmental. Tourists and investors avoid the contaminated Van Etten Lake, which is 1) impacting the livelihood of local businesses (merchants and rentals); 2) destroying property values bordering the lake as well and reducing property values in the greater Oscoda area; 3) poisoning nearby community wells today and wells in the future as the plume continues to grow in size. The horseshoe plume was created by the disposal of AFFF from 1982 to 1992 (10 years). As of this writing the USAF has agreed to place a line of purge wells to prevent PFAS from being drawn into Van Etten Lake from the Horseshoe Plume.
The ‘Clark’s Marsh Plume’ is the largest plume and is being naturally drawn into the Ausable River leading to Lake Huron. The amount of PFAS in the marsh is egregious with concentrations in the 1,000,000 ppt and upward. This Plume is migrating to the Ausable River and is carried directly to Lake Huron. The environmental harm is off the charts as fish, bugs, flora, and wildlife consume and share the poison. The economic harm is in the wake of this poison as it travels to Lake Huron, impacting fishing, local businesses, house values, and community wells. The Clark’s marsh plume was created by the disposal of AFFF from 1972 to 1997 (25 years) from the base sewer system and is further impacted by PFAS from the fire pit plume. The Clark’s Marsh plume will be more challenging to contain and clean up and will likely require significant planning by government and local officials before deploying a viable purge system.
There are roughly five smaller PFAS plumes, slowly transiting the aquifer toward the surface waterways that will eventually require attention.
|IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED: The Horseshoe Plume will require a dedicated line of purge wells to prevent the PFAS from transiting the aquifer into Van Etten Lake. As of this writing the USAF has agreed to install the necessary purge wells and send the contaminated water to an active Pump and Treat Facility. Upgrades to the Pump and Treat Facility will also be required.
NOTE: Contamination from this location originated in ~1982 and ended in 1992 (10 years).
|FUTURE ACTION REQUIRED: The Clark’s Marsh Plume contains the highest concentration of PFAS from legacy firefighter foam, which is transiting the surface of an underground waterway to the Ausable River. A purge system is necessary to 1) contain; and 2) then ultimately remove the PFAS. The Clark’s Marsh plume will be more challenging to contain and clean up and will likely require significant planning by government and local officials before deploying a viable purge system.
NOTE: Contamination from this location originated in ~1972 and ended in 1997 (25 years).
Air Force Plan to Stop Toxic Lake Foam ‘a Step in the Right Direction’, MLive.com, August, 27, 2020. https://www.https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2020/08/air-force-plan-to-stop-toxic-lake-foam-a-step-in-the-right-direction.html?fbclid=IwAR1l780hkaxDKPT0eB7yB-M0YBe46uT-bQzZx6DeZljZA8qXwlfYw4QZghkmlive.com/public-interest/2020/08/air-force-plan-to-stop-toxic-lake
“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
- USAF, retired. Wurtsmith Air Force Base B-52G Aircraft Commander; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base NT-39A Instructor Research Pilot and Senior Acquisition Manager, 2016
- BS Chemistry, Averett University, Danville, Virginia, 1984
- MBA in Finance, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio 2004
- JD in Law, Capital University Law School, Columbus, Ohio, 2013
Co-author of “OVERWHELMED: A Civilian Casualty of Cold War Poison; Mitchell’s Memoir, As told by His Dad, Mom, Sister, & Brother, 2019.”