Plant to begin treating PFAS contaminated groundwater in Oscoda

Aug 30, 2018

These large tanks are part of a system that can treat tens of thousands of gallons of contaminated ground water from the site of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Starting Friday, a new water plant will begin treating contaminated groundwater near the old Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda.

The base was decommissioned in 1993. But man-made chemicals known as PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been slowly leaching into the neighboring community’s groundwater for decades.  

Firefighting foam that was used to extinguish jet fuel fires and training exercises on the base is the source of the chemicals.

Researchers have linked PFAS to serious health problems, including cancer.

People living in Oscoda have criticized the government’s slow response to the spreading contamination that threatens their water wells.

“What we’re doing out here today is part of a commitment to basically work with the community,” says Daniel Medina, a member of the Air Force team responding to the PFAS contamination, “So that they understand and can trust what the Air Force is doing to address their concerns and their problems.”

Once treated, the water is discharged into the local storm water system.

The plant can treat around 300,000 gallons of contaminated ground water a day. But Matt Marrs, co-chair of the Wurtsmith Restoration Advisory Board, says there’s plenty of room to expand in the half empty building on the site of the former Air Force Base.

“(This building) has the capacity to do a 1000 gallons per minute in the future,” Marrs says.

How long the water treatment plant will need to be online is not clear. Officials are still studying the extent of the contamination. 

Marrs concedes it will be many years until the plant is no longer needed and can be dismantled.