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Air Force dispute with state environmental regulators could jeopardize new PFAS extraction project

A map of the area in Oscoda Township surrounding the now closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base is shown. The red area is the base, while the area outlined in yellow is considered the affected area.
Courtesy of District Health Department No. 2
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A map of the area in Oscoda Township surrounding the now closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base is shown. The red area is the base, while the area outlined in yellow is considered the affected area.

The Air Force and state regulators appear to have reached an impasse on a proposed new PFAS extraction project.

The toxic chemicals have contaminated the former Wurtsmith Air Force base in Oscoda.

The extraction project is meant to keep some of the PFAS from entering Van Etten Lake near the base.

EGLE says the work can't begin unless there is a signed document known as a Substantive Requirements Document (SRD). That document would govern discharge standards for an interim remedial system to stem the flow of PFAS chemicals into Van Etten Lake.

"EGLE believes that SRDs are the appropriate mechanism to do compliance oversight at the (area) at Wurtsmith," the department said in an emailed statement.

The Air Force said federal laws already require it to comply with state and federal cleanup standards, so
there is no need for a permit or SRD.

The dispute is raising frustrations — already high from previous disputes and delays related to the cleanup — among residents like Tony Spaniola, who is also co- founder of Need our Water, a community action group.

He says this is just the latest delay by the Air Force.

"I think most of the state of Michigan now knows the Air Force has really been tough to deal with and it's been very, very, very frustrating," Spaniola said. "We shouldn't be spending our time horsing around on these types of issues. We should be focusing on cleaning things up so the community can drink safe water."

Spagniola said he is eager to see the new pump and treat extraction project go into operation, as it could lay the groundwork for a long-term strategy to keep the PFAS contamination confined to the base, so no further pollution of private wells or the lake occurs.

The Air Force said it couldn't reveal the details of its conversations with EGLE, but it's confident it can work out the disagreement and have the project operational late next year.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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